Understanding the Neural Tube

Your bundle of joy is finally here! You made it! Whether worried sick, or elated, we are here to walk with you every step of the way to ensure that your transition to motherhood is a smooth sail. 

You may have heard terrifying advice on how you should handle your baby and especially, that you should not shake them. Many may not understand why, but your baby’s neural tube depends solely on what you feed while pregnant and after birth.

What is a Neural Tube?

A neural tube is a flat ribbon-like structure, that turns into a tube by the end of the first month of pregnancy. These tubes usually develop into the infant’s brain and spinal cord. 

In the event that your baby’s joy’s neural tube does not develop normally and close completely, your baby is likely to suffer a neural tube defect.

Neural Tube Defects

Also abbreviated NTDs, neural tube defects at times cause major life-threatening issues, and in unfortunate cases, can lead to death. Therefore, it is imperative that you take approximately 400 micrograms of folic acid on a daily basis, prior to and during the first trimester of your pregnancy.

In the event that you do not understand why we insist on you taking folic acid, here is why: folic acid is a B vitamin that is required by body cells for complete and normal growth and development.

Types of Neural tube defects.

While neural tube defects are quite a number, the two most known are:

  • Spina bifida- this is the most common NTD. This occurs when the miniature bones of your baby’s spinal cord do not close completely, and part of the baby’ spinal cord can be seen poking out of the spine. As a result, your baby is likely to have paralyzed legs, difficulty controlling bladder and bowel movements.
  • Anencephaly-this is the most severe manifestation of a neural tube defect. It occurs when the top part of the neural tube that forms the baby’s brain fails to close up completely. Babies born with this condition miss the main parts of the brain, cranium (skull) and scalp. These babies hardly survive as they die a few hours after their birth. 

Statistics say that girls are 3 times more likely than boys to be born with Anencephaly.

What Causes Neural Tube Defects?

The causes of tube defects are not known. However, experts suggest that some of the defects may be brought about by:

  • Genetics
  • Environment (drugs, cigarette smoke, lead, air pollution)

Find out if your baby is at risk of NTD

There are factors that may increase the risk of NTD. These are:

  • You had a previous baby with NTD.
  • Family history of NTDs.
  • You have been taking anti-seizure drugs
  • You struggle with drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Obesity,
  • Diabetes, active Crohn’s disease or even advanced liver disease.
  • You take opioids during the course of your first two months of pregnancy

How to prevent your baby from being born with NTD:

Although you cannot prevent some things such as a disability or death from happening, there are a few things that you can do:

  • Increase you intake folic acid before and during early pregnancy. If you are at high risk of NTDs, take 4,000 mcg of folic acid. We assure you it will go a long way, compared to taking none.
  • You may also take a multivitamin or/and prenatal vitamin concurrently.

Can You Get Folic Acid from Food?

Yes. Some foods are usually fortified or enriched with folic acid, hence have the desired B-vitamin folic acid. Foods such as bread, breakfast cereal, flour, white rice, cornmeal, pasta, beans, leafy green veggies and orange juice are rich in folic acid.

 Can You Find out Whether Your Baby Has a Neural Tube Defect Before Birth?

Yes you can. You can get prenatal tests before you baby is born. The aforementioned tests are mostly known as screening tests, which are designed to find out whether your baby is more predisposed towards an NTD. Below are some of the screening tests that you can do.

  • Quad screen/maternal blood screening – this entails drawing of your blood for a quad screen
  • Ultrasound- Amniocentesis– this is the ultimate diagnostic test for NTDs. During the administration of this test, the doctor will take some amniotic fluid done at 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.


Please note that development differs from one child to another. 

Content intended for educational purposes only, and not a substitute for medical advice from your doctor.

Be careful when using any products mentioned on this website. We hold no regulations for such products or their providers.

Last reviewed March 2019

Sources: marchofdimes, pregnancybirthbaby, nichd.nih, healthlinkbc

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