Medical Q&As

Spina bifida - folic acid?

My brother has spina bifida and I have just discovered that I am pregnant. Unfortunately it was not planned and I was not taking folic acid supplements although I started as soon as I found out. I am now very worried that my baby will be affected. What is the likelihood of this occurring?

Ideally folic acid supplements should be taken before conception as well as through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. However, it is good that you started to take folic acid supplements as soon as you realised that you were pregnant because the first twelve weeks of pregnancy are the crucial weeks for the development of spina bifida. Spina bifida is an example of a congenital condition that arises through multifactorial inheritance, which means that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is at work. In other words it does not arise as a result of one single cause. You and your siblings are at slightly increased risk of having a child with spina bifida because you share some genes in common with your brother. However, by taking folic acid supplements you have reduced that risk. On the basis of probability it is far more likely that your baby won’t be affected by this condition.