What Is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida means “split spine” and is a major permanently disabling birth defect.  It happens during the first month of pregnancy when part of the spine fails to close properly.  Nerves within the spine protrude through the spine and become damaged.  This can result in paralysis or poor sensation in some or all of the muscles in the feet and legs.  Other complications of spina bifida may include hydrocephalus; bowel and bladder control issues; learning disabilities; scoliosis; and other conditions.

The severity of disability among persons with spina bifida varies greatly.  Some have many severe health issues; others have fewer and milder health concerns.  About 1,500 babies are born with spina bifida each year in the United States.  The risk of an unborn child developing spina bifida can be significantly reduced if women take folic acid before becoming pregnant and during the first weeks of pregnancy.