Spina bifida is a condition that occurs when a developing baby’s spine and spinal cord don't form properly. It is congenital (present at birth) and affects the baby’s neural tube, which eventually develops into the spinal cord.
In a normal pregnancy, the neural tube forms early and closes within 28 days of conception. But in babies with spina bifida, the neural tube fails to close correctly, which can lead to defects in the bones of the spine and the central nervous system. Depending on the severity of the defect, a child may have physical disabilities ranging from minor to significant.
There are several types of spina bifida; symptoms vary by type and can be different for every individual.
Though the causes of spina bifida aren't known, there are known risk factors including:
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and have risk factors for spina bifida, your Mercy physician can let you know if you need to make any changes or take other precautions.
Prenatal testing, including blood tests, ultrasound exams and amniocentesis, can screen for spina bifida during pregnancy. If we find your baby has spina bifida, Mercy’s maternal and fetal medicine specialists will talk with you and your family about your baby’s neural tube defect, how we plan to treat it, and what you can expect in the days ahead.
Treatment will depend on the type and severity of the condition. Spina bifida occulta usually needs no special treatment. More severe types may require surgery shortly after birth.
In some cases, fetal surgery may be an option to repair the baby’s spinal cord while the baby is still in the uterus. Your Mercy team of maternal and fetal medicine specialists, along with our collaborative team of pediatric neurosurgeons and fetal surgeons, will counsel you on the best options for your baby.
Learning that your baby may have spina bifida can cause a great deal of anxiety and fear, but most babies born with this condition have treatable symptoms and bright futures. Count on Mercy for heartfelt support and loving guidance through this challenging time.