Spina bifida is a birth defect that happens when the neural tube doesn't close properly during early stages of pregnancy. Though spina bifida can be difficult to detect, diagnose and manage in pregnancy, understanding why it occurs and if there are cures available can help pregnant mothers prepare for and understand the risks.
What is Spina Bifida?
Spina bifida is a birth defect of the neural tube. It happens when the vertebrae, which are the bones surrounding and protecting your spinal cord, don’t close during early development of a baby in utero. This leaves an opening in the spine that doesn’t protect the spinal cord correctly and causes a range of complications that can include paralysis of all or part of the body below the opening.
How Is Spina Bifida Diagnosed in Pregnancy?
Spina bifida can be diagnosed during pregnancy through prenatal testing, such as an ultrasound or blood tests. Ultrasounds are important in detecting spina bifida since they allow doctors to monitor a baby’s development in the womb and look for the abnormal openings between the vertebrae that indicate spina bifida. Blood tests can be done to measure levels of protein and other substances in amniotic fluid, which can help confirm a diagnosis.
What Treatment Options are Available for Spina Bifida in Pregnancy?
There are several treatment options available for those pregnant with a baby who is diagnosed with spina bifida. During pregnancy, there are surgical and non-surgical interventions that can be done to address complications of the condition, such as facial deformities or hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain). Once the baby is born, additional medical interventions, therapies, and corrective surgeries can be done to treat spina bifida. Treatment plans are tailored to meet each individual’s specific needs.
What Complications are Associated with Spina Bifida in Pregnancy?
Spina bifida can cause a variety of complications for pregnant mothers and their children. The most common are hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), bowel and bladder disorders, scoliosis (curvature of the spine), and facial deformities. Babies with spina bifida may also have difficulty with breathing and swallowing, muscle weakness, learning disabilities, and other disabilities. These complications can be treated while the baby is still in the womb with surgical interventions or shortly after birth.
How Can I Support Infants and Children Affected by Spina Bifida?
Supporting infants and children affected by spina bifida requires a holistic approach. Providing support to both the child and the parents is essential for providing the best quality of care. Parents should be provided with information on diagnosis, treatments, and coping strategies while infant’s physical needs such as splints or orthopedic braces should be addressed quickly. Long-term care plans may also need to include mental health supports such as occupational therapy or speech-language pathology evaluations.