What is Spina Bifida?

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Spina Bifida is a major birth defect of a baby’s spine. It is one of the most common, permanently disabling birth defects in the United States.

Spina Bifida occurs within the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. It happens when the spine and back bones do not close all the way. When this happens, the spinal cord and back bones do not form as they should. A sac of fluid comes through an opening in the baby’s back. Much of the time, part of the spinal cord is in this sac and it is damaged.

Most children born with Spina Bifida live full lives, though they often have lifelong disabilities and need many surgeries. Some of the problems that a person born with Spina Bifida might face include:

  • Not being able to move lower parts of their body. (Some might need to use crutches, braces, or wheelchairs to get around.)
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control. (Some might have to wear protective clothing. Others learn new ways to empty their bladders and bowels.)
  • Fluid building up and putting pressure on the brain (hydrocephalus), which needs to be fixed with an operation.
  • Learning disabilities.

Allergy to latex (a created material found in some rubber-type products such as balloons or hospital gloves).

All children born with Spina Bifida don’t have the same needs. Some children have problems that are much more severe than others. Even so, with the right care, most of these children will grow up to lead full and productive lives.

Can Spina Bifida Be Prevented?

Most, but not all, cases of Spina Bifida can be prevented.

Folic acid is a B vitamin that the body needs to make healthy new cells. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during pregnancy, her baby is less likely to have Spina Bifida or another defect of the brain or spine. Women need to take folic acid every day, starting before they get pregnant.

Every woman who could possibly get pregnant should take 400 micrograms (400 μg or 0.4 mg) of folic acid daily in a vitamin or in foods that have been enriched with folic acid.

Learn more about Folic Acid and where to find rich sources of it at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. More information about Spina Bifida can be found at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.