Pediatric Spina Bifida

MaineHealth doctors and specialists provide expert screening, diagnosis and treatment for spina bifida. They provide early intervention and supportive care.

What is spina bifida?

Spina bifida is a birth defect. Spina bifida happens when a baby is in the womb. The spine does not grow and form as it should. There may be problems in the spinal cord and in the bones of the spine.

There are four kinds of spina bifida:

  1. Spina bifida occulta is the most common type of spina bifida. Spina bifida occulta is a mild form of spina bifida. It does not cause harm and is not seen. People often find out they have spina bifida occulta after having a back X-ray.
  2. Closed neural tube defects are a group of defects. The spinal cord, fat, bone, or other tissues does not form properly. There may be few symptoms. Sometimes there are urinary and bowel problems.
  3. Meningocele is a rare form of spina bifida. The covering of the spinal cord pushes out through the opening in the vertebrae. This kind of spina bifida is treated with surgery.
  4. Myelomeningocele is a very serious form of spina bifida. The baby’s spinal canal is open along the lower and middle back. The spinal cord and its covering push out and form a sac on the baby’s back. There is nerve damage and other problems.

Spina bifida diagnosis

Spina bifida most often is diagnosed before birth:

  • Maternal serum alpha fetoprotein (MSAFP) screening checks protein levels in the mother’s blood
  • Amniocentesis involves using a long, thin needle to sample amniotic fluid for study
  • Fetal ultrasound uses sound waves to get a picture of the fetus.

Spina bifida prevention

Spina bifida is caused by a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and nutritional factors. If a pregnant mother does not get enough folic acid her baby is at higher risk of having spina bifida. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take a daily vitamin that includes folic acid.

Spina bifida treatment

Mild cases of spina bifida may not be diagnosed until after birth. Some cases may never be detected and do not pose health problems.

More serious forms of spina bifida usually are treated with surgery right after birth.