Is there any way to prevent spina bifida?

Q: We recently terminated a pregnancy because we found out the baby had severe spina bifida. Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening with future pregnancies?

A: Spina bifida is a condition in which the neural tube--the embryonic tissue that becomes the brain and spinal cord--does not close properly. The condition can range from mild, with little or no impairment at birth, to very serious, causing severe disability or, sadly, death.

The good news is that taking folic acid in early pregnancy is hugely effective in reducing the incidence of spina bifida. All women should take 400 micrograms daily beginning a minimum of four weeks before conception and for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This dosage increases to 4 milligrams (4,000 mcg) per day for women who are at increased risk due to a previous pregnancy affected by spina bifida, a family history of the condition, or medications they're taking, such as anti-convulsants.

Once you're pregnant, your doctor may recommend ultrasounds at 12 and 16 weeks to help rule out spina bifida; a diagnosis can be made by amniocentesis at 16 to 18 weeks. For information and support, visit the Spina Bifida Association's website at