What is Spina Bifida?
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.
Each year about 1,500 pregnancies are affected by Spina Bifida 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. Surgery is generally performed within 24-48 hours of birth to repair the spinal opening, but the damage is permanent.
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, including difficulties with executive functioning (problem solving, organizational skills).
- Allergy to latex (a material found in some rubber-type products such as balloons or hospital gloves).
The spectrum of disability ranges from mild to severe and each child has different needs. Even so, most children with Spina Bifida can and do live long, productive lives, thanks to advanced medical techniques and strong support systems.
Can Spina Bifida Be Prevented?
Many 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.
Visit our website www.folicacideveryday.org to learn more about Folic Acid and where to find rich sources of it. Information on folic acid and Spina Bifida can also be found at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.