My Baby Has Spina Bifida — Now What?

Jul 01, 2023
My Baby Has Spina Bifida — Now What?
Spina bifida begins within the first month of pregnancy when parts of the spinal aren’t completely enclosed within the spine. Every spina bifida patient has a unique combination of symptoms, but treatment is usually possible. 

Your baby can be diagnosed with spina bifida while you’re still pregnant, through a blood test that exposes risk and then later with an ultrasound or MRI to confirm its presence. Sometimes, spina bifida could be visually present at childbirth, and in other cases it’s discovered later during testing for unrelated conditions. While every baby with the condition has their own unique variations, most children with spina bifida grow to reach their full potential. 

Because of its status as a “snowflake” disease, where each patient has a different experience, spina bifida has an extremely wide range of effects, from no symptoms at all to severe disability. It’s a life-long condition, so partnering with a team like Coast Neurological Associates helps you with spina bifida management in severe cases, ensuring your child receives the finest and most appropriate care.  

Three types

There are three general versions of spina bifida and fortunately, the most common type is also the mildest. 

Spina bifida occulta

This type of the disease is the most likely to occur without symptoms. All types of spina bifida feature openings in the neural tube, the structure that forms in the early stages of pregnancy and grows into a structure that encloses the brain and spinal cord. Full enclosure usually happens by the 28th day after conception. 

The openings in spina bifida occulta are often hidden, the definition of the word “occulta.” Children with this type have few symptoms or none at all and learn of their condition through diagnostic imaging for other conditions. 


Also called open spina bifida, myelomeningocele is the most severe form of the disease. The spinal canal is open across several vertebrae, usually in the middle or lower back. Spinal nerves and membranes escape through these openings, exposing tissue to infection and nerve dysfunction. Myelomeningocele can lead to life-threatening conditions. 


The rarest type of spina bifida, meningocele features a sac protruding from the spine like myelomeningocele, but there are no spinal cord tissues in the protrusion. Problems with this type of the disease tend to be minor functional issues. 

My baby has spina bifida -- now what?

Much depends on how your child is affected by the disease. In the most severe cases, surgery in utero, prior to childbirth, could be necessary to preserve the function of nerves. In other cases, surgery may be performed within 72 hours of birth to protect nerve tissue and prevent dangerous infections. 

Babies born with spina bifida sometimes also have hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain. Surgical shunts are placed to relieve excess pressure on the brain when hydrocephalus is present. 

A child with spina bifida could need neurosurgical care today and beyond to enjoy the best quality of life. Contact the spina bifida specialists at Coast Neurosurgical Associates to learn more about your child’s condition. You can request an appointment online or call us directly at our Long Beach, California office. There’s no reason to wait. Book your visit today.