WHAT IS SPINA BIFIDA?
The name spina bifida means “split spine”. Think of your baby’s spine as a zip that gets done up around his spinal cord, which is the line of nerves that connect his brain to his body. When it doesn’t close up properly, a gap is formed through which these nerves protrude. There are different types of spina bifida, both open and closed. The myelomeningocele type (SBM) is the most serious form of open spina bifida. In this form, a soft, unprotected area is left, which can bulge through the skin as a dark bag. This bag consists of spinal nerves, cerebrospinal fluid and meninges (the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord). It’s exposed to infection, injury or drying out, and needs to be closed surgically as soon as possible. The most common closed form of the condition is spina bifida occulta, where a layer of skin covers the opening in the vertebrae. There are many health issues that affect a person with spina bifida, depending on the severity of the syndrome. Many children with spina bifida have some degree of paralysis of the limbs below the level of the spinal malformation, and malfunctioning of the bladder and rectum. Other common issues include hydrocephalus (excess brain fluid), limb and foot abnormalities, developmental delay and cognitive disability. Research has shown that some women who conceive babies with spina bifida have lower levels of folic acid in their bodies. This is why supplementation of this important vitamin during pregnancy is encouraged.