What Is the Neural Tube?

I keep hearing about neural tube defects, but what exactly is the neural tube?
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profile picture of Sharon Phelan, MD
Updated January 30, 2017
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The neural tube is what eventually becomes the brain and spinal cord. In the early days of pregnancy, the embryo is basically a ball of cells. That “ball” folds in on itself as the cells start to form different body parts. The inner cells form a tube-like structure that is called the neural tube. The neural tube typically closes — or forms a complete tube — by the fourth week of pregnancy. If the tube doesn’t fully close for some reason, the baby is said to have a neural tube defect. Common neural tube defects include spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele.

Taking enough folic acid before and during pregnancy can help decrease the chances of a neural tube defect. Because neural tube development happens before most women even know they’re pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control recommend that all women of childbearing age eat a diet high in folic acid or take a multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid daily.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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