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January: Birth Defects Prevention Month

Christeena Haynes, MS, RD, LD, former Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Dallas County, University of Missouri Extension


Pregnant woman drinking orange juice, a source of folic acidJanuary is Birth Defects Prevention Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,000 pregnancies in the U.S. are affected by neural tube defects every year.


Neural tube defects are birth defects that impact the brain and spinal cord. The most common are spina bifida and anencephaly. With spina bifida, the spine does not close fully, usually resulting in nerve damage and paralysis of the legs. With anencephaly, the brain and skull do not form correctly and babies with this condition do not survive. Not all birth defects can be prevented, but the risk of neural tube defects can be significantly reduced by consuming folic acid.


So what is folic acid? Folic acid is a B vitamin that the body needs to make new cells. Everyone needs it, but because folic acid plays such a crucial role in the prevention of neural tube defects, it is recommended that every woman who is able to become pregnant consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid can be found in foods such as dark leafy greens, avocado, orange juice and eggs. However, to be sure you are getting the recommended amount, you should take a folic acid supplement or multivitamin with 100% daily value of folic acid, or you can eat breakfast cereal that has been fortified with 100% daily value of folic acid every day.


Neural tube defects occur during the first few weeks of pregnancy, so it is important for all women to take folic acid daily, even if they are not pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Women should continue to take it throughout their pregnancy.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Folic acid.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The importance of folic acid: Anifa’s story. Retrieved October 23, 2012, from


National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Neural tube defects. Retrieved October 23, 2012, from


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Last Updated 01/03/2017