How Spina Bifida May Affect Your Child

Spina Bifida can affect the way your child’s brain, spine, spinal cord and meninges form in the womb and function after birth.  Meninges are the tissues that cover and protect the brain and the spinal cord.4,7

According to the literature, the most common types of Spina Bifida are:

  1. Myelomeningocele (also called open Spina Bifida). This is the most severe and the most common form of Spina Bifida. In this condition, part of the spinal cord pushes out with the meninges through the gap in the spine to form a sac on the baby’s back.  The spinal cord and nearby nerves are damaged.  This condition can cause paralysis (when one or more parts of your body cannot feel or move). An increase in infection rates and allergies as well as other diseases frequently occurring in conjunction with Spina Bifida have been reported.  Babies with this condition may need surgery before birth or within the first few days of life.  During surgery, a surgeon tucks the spinal cord and nerves back into the spine and cover them with muscle and skin.  This can help prevent new nerve damage and infection.  But the surgery can’t undo any damage that’s already happened.  Even with surgery, babies with this condition may have different forms and sometimes lasting disabilities, like problems walking and going to the bathroom. 3,4,7,8,9,10
  2. Spina Bifida Occulta (also called Hidden Spina Bifida).  This is the mildest form and usually doesn’t cause health problems.  In this condition, the gap in the spine is small.  The spinal cord and nerves stay in place and usually aren’t damaged.  A dimple or tuft of hair may appear on the overlying skin. 2,3,4,5,7,8,9,10
  3. Closed neural tube defect.  In this condition, the fat, bone or meninges around the spinal cord don’t form correctly.  This sometimes damages the nerves in the spinal cord.  This condition often causes no symptoms, but some babies may have problems controlling their bladder and bowels (going to the bathroom).4,10
  4. Meningocele.  This is the rarest form. In this condition, the meninges push out through the gap in the spine.  This creates a sac filled with fluid (called a meningocele) on the baby’s back.  There’s usually little or no nerve damage, but some babies may have problems controlling their bladder and bowels.  Surgery can be done to remove the meningocele. 4,7,9

The good news is that the CDC also reports “many adolescents and young adults with Spina Bifida report a high level of satisfaction with their health-related quality of life, are entering and succeeding at college life, and are participating in sports and other recreational activities.1 

Please note that the information provided by BARD Medical in this article or on this website is not intended to be used in place of a visit, consultation, or advice of a medical professional.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Data and statistics. Available online at:
  2. GRAY’S Anatomy Review- First Edition. Gray's Anatomy Review (Kindle Locations 15-21). Elsevier Health Sciences. Kindle Edition.
  3. March of Dimes. (2009). Birth defects: Spina Bifida. Available online at:
  4. Spina Bifida Association. (2008). Spina Bifida. Available online at:
  5. Spina Bifida Association –National Resource Center. Folic Acid. Available on-line
  6. Ozek M, Cinalli G, Maixner W, The Spina Bifida Management and Outcomes, Springer Milan Berlin Heidelberg New York, 2008
  7. Rekate H MD, Comprehensive Management of Spina Bifida, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Ann Arbor, Boston, 2006
  8. Clinical Neuroanatomy 27th Edition, McGraw-Hill Education, 2013
  9. Agopian AJ, etal. Spinal Bifida Subtypes and Sub Phenotypes by Maternal Race, Ethnicity in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, Am J Med Genet Part A 158A:109-115, 2011

Information is as of 12/2014. Please check references for updated information.