Folic acid or baby paralysis? Choose wisely.


This is about Nunu’s baby, and honestly, we didn’t expect what we saw.

When Nunu fell into labor, we joined her. I and Rumi stayed up all through the night with her, cheering her on over the phone as good soul sisters do.

I had told that baby to come out before I went to work but she didn’t listen. Nunu hadn’t yet put to bed by 7 am, so we had to stop calling to prepare for work.

Three hours later, we got the good news that she had put to bed.


Anyways, since Rumi and I were the uncontested god-mothers, we were determined to be the first people to see the baby. Of course, that’s apart from the doctor, midwives, Nunu, her husband… oh well… you know what I mean. We had to be the first outsiders to see her even though we are not exactly outsiders. We all grew up together and in fact, I and Rumi were her maids of honor during her wedding. I just want to make that clear.

Three friends that grew up together, now supporting one of them whose baby had a neural tube defect from lack of folic acid.
Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

By 3:30 pm, we were already at the hospital even though visitors were not going to be allowed in till 4 pm. While we waited at the visitor’s lounge, we argued about who would be the first to carry the baby and what names to give her. We bet on whether Nunu would be Instagram ready with her makeup on. Looking back now, I guess we may have been a bit too loud but then, we really couldn’t care.

When it was 4 pm, a nurse told us we could go see her and that we needed to be ‘quiet-er’.

“Yes ma’am.” we chorused, as we went in singing our sisters song. So much for being quiet.

But we didn’t expect what we saw when we got into her room.

Nunu was sitting on the edge of the bed in the pink-walled room with a drip attached to the back of her hand. Her hair was disheveled and she wore a concerned look on her face. There was definitely no make-up and there was also no baby in sight. She was all alone.

Our singing automatically stopped.

What’s going on Nunu? Where’s the baby?” I asked scanning the room for clues.

“The baby is on admission,” she replied. “There was a swelling on her back like a small pouch when she was born, and the doctor said it contains parts of her spinal cord and nerves. They need to repair that defect and return the spinal cord and nerves into her back so that it won’t get infected and spread to her brain. The doctor called it menin… ME-NIN-GO-MY-EL-O-CELE.” Nunu said, carefully sounding out the word.

“Is it that bad?” I asked.

Instantly, I felt like entering the floor for asking such a dumb question. Who doesn’t know that spinal cord and nerve issues are not good?

“Well, she may have complications like paralysis, not being able to control urine, and so many other things, but I’m trying to be hopeful and focus on the positives. They said it’s better in some children who don’t have any visible symptoms but it’s much worse in some other children who could even be born without a large part of their brains.” Nunu replied.

She showed us a picture of her baby’s back.

Gosh! This was crazy. I had seen things like this before but I never knew it could happen to someone like us. I always felt it only happened to poor people. Yeah, I know. Whatever. Don’t judge me.

The sound of the door opening interrupted my thinking.

“Oh! Thank God you’re here!” It was Nunu’s husband. “She has been so bothered and I’m glad you two are here to keep her company.”

“How’s my baby?” Nunu asked him.

“She’s fine. They are preparing for surgery.”

The thought of surgery on a new baby scared me. “Did they say what caused it?” I asked him, trying to disguise my concern.

“Well, they explained that the brain and spinal cord start developing in the first few weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, even before she realizes that she’s pregnant. That is before she misses her period. For now, the main culprit is insufficient folic acid. There are other things like diabetes, being obese, genetics, and using some particular types of medications, especially drugs that fight convulsions that have been linked to it, but folic acid deficiency is top of the list.”

“Huh? You mean something can go wrong on a pregnancy a woman doesn’t even know anything about?” Rumi queried.

Pregnant woman, baby may have developed a neural tube defect from lack of folic acid before she even realized she was pregnant
Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

“Apparently!” he replied, a wry look on his face. “It’s not enough to start antenatal care and supplements at three months of pregnancy. One needs to start preparing before even thinking of getting pregnant.”

“So how does one beat this? Are we just hopeless and helpless, waiting for fortune to decide who gets it?” I asked.

“No. We aren’t helpless. The folate that helps the brain, spinal cord, and backbone form can be gotten from food or folic acid tablets. So if all women started using folic acid supplements and eating balanced meals way before trying to conceive, these scenarios would be drastically reduced. That was the doctor’s message.” Nunu replied. “I just wish I had known about all this before getting pregnant.”

“Aww. Don’t beat yourself up, darling. We’ll pray… she’ll be alright.” we cooed,putting our arms around her.

“Thanks.” she said, hugging us tightly.

A nurse came in then. “Please excuse us, I’ll like to check her,” she said referring to Nunu, “and she needs to get some rest. Let’s not forget that she just put to bed.”

“Okay, ma’am. We’ll take our leave now.” Rumi said. “We’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Good night, and thanks for your support.” Nunu’s husband said while Nunu smiled.

As soon as we were out of the hospital, I went straight to the pharmacy. Since I’ll be getting married in two months, this is a wonderful time to start taking folic acid supplements, or what do you think? After all, prevention is better than cure. I cannot allow those yellow folic acid tablets to come and terrorize me in the future.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash


  1. The brain and spinal cord develop from a tube called the neural tube. If this tube doesn’t close properly, it leads to defects along the spine and spinal cord generally called spina bifida.
  2. Some of these defects are not very obvious and may only show a dimple or tuft of hair at the baby’s back, or may remain hidden beneath the skin. These are called spina bifida occulta.
  3. Obvious defects are called spina bifida aperta and may contain the spinal cord alone (myelocele) or the spinal cord and its covering membranes (meningomyelocele). These conditions are jointly managed by different specialists because they can affect several body parts and systems.
  4. Spina bifida can be diagnosed before birth and even repaired during pregnancy in advanced centers.
  5. Peri-conceptional folic acid, which means taking folic acid before, during, and after conception goes a long way in ensuring the proper formation and closure of the neural tube.
  6. Good dietary sources of folate are eggs, green vegetables, and citrus fruits.

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26 thoughts on “Folic acid or baby paralysis? Choose wisely.”

    1. Dr. Mercy Folayan

      You’re welcome. We indeed take a lot for granted. But the good news is that we can make conscious choices to do what we can.


    Great read again!!! I love the way you come up with the names. And how you pass the message across. Top work sister.

  2. Blessing Adeyemi

    This was really insightful. Useful information for when the time comes. Thanks so much Doctor.

  3. Precious Adeyemi

    Omo once again, we learn everyday. This has just added to the many things to keep in mind. Thank you for the post!

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