Spina bifida most common neural tube defect affecting Utah infants

Birth defects affect approximately 1,100 births every year in Utah and are one of the leading causes of infant mortality.

A new report from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) shows the most common neural tube defect in Utah is spina bifida. Neural tube defects are birth defects that impact the brain, spine, and spinal cord early in pregnancy.

While not the most common type of birth defect in Utah, an average of 22 Utah infants are born with a neural tube defect each year.

“Folic acid is an easy thing that we can do that has been shown to prevent neural tube defects,” according to Amanda Stokes, a maternity nurse at Logan Regional Hospital.

Although the majority of women have heard of folic acid and know healthcare providers recommend talking folic acid to prevent birth defects, data show only about 38% of Utah women aged 18-44 take a vitamin with folic acid daily.

“Neural tube defects often occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. That’s why it’s important for women of child bearing age to take a vitamin with 400mcg of folic acid once a day to prevent neural tube defects,” said Maria Huynh epidemiologist with the UDOH Utah Birth Defect Network. “Folic acid is a B9 vitamin that helps with growth and development.

“Folate, naturally found in leafy greens, has been mentioned as an alternative for folic acid; however, it’s difficult for women to get the daily amount of folate through food alone.”

“This is not new information,” said Stokes. “I think it was in the 1960’s that is was first reported that women should be taking folic acid to prevent these neural tube defects, but we do need to continue to advise women to take those multi-vitamins with folic acid.”

Other findings from the report showed:

  • 750 pregnancies were affected by a neural tube defect in Utah from 1995-2015; 62.5% of these pregnancies resulted in a live birth.
  • Spina bifida is the most common type of neural tube defect in Utah affecting 4.0 infants per 10,000 live births, followed by anencephaly (2.3 infants per 10,000 live births), and encephalocele (1.0 infants per 10,000 live births).
  • Women at highest risk for having an infant born with a neural tube defect included:
    • Women who were Hispanic or Latina
    • Women who were obese (pre-pregnancy BMI ≥ 30)
    • Women who had no prenatal care
  • Among women aged 18-44 in Utah, about 50% knew healthcare providers recommended folic acid as a way to prevent birth defects.

A new campaign from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Birth Defects Prevention Network, “Best for you. Best for baby,” encourages women to do five things to increase the chance of a healthy pregnancy and lessen the chance of their baby being born with a birth defect.

  • Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
  • Visit with a healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medication.
  • Become up-to-date with all vaccines, including the flu shot.
  • Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight.
  • Avoid harmful substances during pregnancy, such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

An average of 230 babies are born each month at Logan Regional Hospital.

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