Infant spina bifida is a birth defect which develops before the baby is born. In this disease, the spinal cord or its coverings are not fully developed. This disease is usually treated as soon as the physician becomes aware of it. Spina bifida is ranked as being among the most common birth defects.

What is Infant Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida comes from Latin and literally means “split spine.” It is a birth defect of the neural tube. The neural tube is an embryonic structure which eventually develops into the spinal cord and brain. Under normal circumstances, the neural tube forms in the early days of pregnancy and it closes roughly one month after conception. When a portion of a neural tube fails to properly develop or close, it causes a defect in the spinal cord and bones in the spine which is referred to as spina bifida.

Spina Bifida Symptoms

There are three distinctive forms of infant spina bifida. Symptoms in all three of them vary. The three different forms of infant spina bifida are spina bifida occulta, meningocele and myelomeningocele.

Spina bifida occulta

Spina bifida occulta is mildest form of infant spina bifida. The separation between the vertebrae of the spine is small. Usually in this type, the nerves are not affected so there may be no symptoms and the children may develop with no neurological problems. The visible signs may be seen on the skin of newborn’s skin above the spinal defect.

Signs of spina bifida occulta may include:

  • A small birthmark or a dimple
  • An abnormal looking tuft of hair
  • Fat collection


Meningocele spina bifida is a rare form of infant spina bifida in which the protective membrane around the spinal cord pushes out through the vertebrae opening. In this form, the spinal cord develops normally so it is usually easier to remove these membranes through surgery with little or no nerve damage. The symptoms include fluid-filled sac on the back that is visible underneath a thin layer of skin. This sac can be as small as a grape and as large as a grapefruit.


Myelomeningocele spina bifida is the most severe form of infant spina bifida. It is also known as open infant spina bifida. In this form, the spinal canal is open or exposed along several vertebrae. At the time of birth, the spinal cord and membrane protrude and form a sac on the back of a baby. In some cases, skin covers the back. However, the nerves and tissues are exposed, which may cause life-threatening infections in babies.

Other common symptoms of myelomeningocele spina bifida may include:

  • Weakness of muscles in legs, sometimes to the point of paralysis
  • Problems in bowel and bladder
  • Seizures
  • Uneven hips, deformed feet, or curved spine along with other orthopedic problems

Infant Spina Bifida Causes

There is uncertainty among medical professionals about the causes of infant spina bifida. According to some doctors, infants develop spina bifida because of genetic and environmental reasons. In case of genetic factors, a baby may have spina bifida because of a family history of neural tube defects. In cases-of environmental reasons, it could be because of deficiency of folic acid or poor prenatal care.

Infant Spina Bifida Treatment

Treatment varies depending on the type and the severity of the disease. In case of meningocele, an infant usually undergoes surgery in which the membrane is pushed back and the hole in the vertebrae is closed. Babies who have myelomeningocele require immediate attention. These children often undergo surgery one or two days after birth. During the surgery, the spine is pushed back into the vertebrae and the hole is closed to protect the spine and prevent any infection.

Prenatal surgery is also conducted in which the physicians open the fetus and repair the baby’s spinal cord. In case of myelomeningocele, the infant requires ongoing care by multidisciplinary team of surgeons, therapist and physicians, as infants may need to undergo other surgeries due to complications.

Infant Spina Bifida Legal Considerations

In some cases, infants are genetically predisposed to spina bifida. In other cases, it can be triggered or exacerbated due to negligent care. If you feel that your doctor could have prevented this birth injury during pregnancy or delivery, it is appropriate to speak with an experienced birth injury lawyer who can advise you on matters of recourse.



Piatt, Joseph. “Spina Bifida.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, 1 Oct. 2011. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. <>.

“Spina Bifida.” Treatments and Drugs. The Mayo Clinic. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. <>.

“Living With Spina Bifida: Infants.” Spina Bifida. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. <>.