What is Spina Bifida?
Spina bifida is a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings. The term spina bifida comes from Latin and literally means "split" or "open" spine.
Spina bifida occurs at the end of the first month of pregnancy when the two sides of the embryo's spine fail to join together, leaving an open area. In some cases, the spinal cord or other membranes may push through this opening in the back. The condition usually is detected before a baby is born and treated right away.
Why does Spina Bifida occur?
The causes of spina bifida are unknown. Some evidence suggests that genes may play a role, but in most cases there is no familial connection. Some researchers have discovered that folic acid, a common B vitamin, can help reduce the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect. Women who take folic acid daily for at least one month before pregnancy will reduce their chances of having a baby with spina bifida by up to 70%. The FDA recommends that ALL women of child-bearing age take 0.4mg of folic acid everyday. You can find this amount in most mulit-vitamins.
What effects does Spina Bifida have on a baby?
There are two forms of SB. Spina bifida occulta is the mildest form of spina bifida (occulta means hidden). Most children with this type of defect never have any health problems, and the spinal cord is often unaffected.
Myelomeningocele (the form Alex has) is the most severe form of spina bifida. It occurs when the meninges push through the hole in the back, and the spinal cord also pushes though. Most babies who are born with this type of spina bifida also have hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid in and around the brain. Because of the abnormal development of and damage to the spinal cord, a child with myelomeningocele typically has some paralysis. The degree of paralysis largely depends on where the opening occurs in the spine. The higher the opening is on the back, the more severe the paralysis tends to be.
Children with spina bifida often have problems with bowel and bladder control, and some may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other learning difficulties, such as hand-eye coordination problems.
As most of you (who have followed us on this rocky path) know, there can be a myriad of other problems associated with SB. It's a daily struggle and prayer to get us through them. But ultimately it's awareness of SB, and the role folic acid plays, that can help to reduce the number children born with it in the future. So we ask that you take the time to share some of this knowledge with anyone who may be curious about Spina Bifida and/or the importance of folic acid.