Infant Spina Bifida

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What You Should Know about Spina Bifida

Learn more about neural tube defects

Infant spina bifida is a type of birth defect that occurs within the womb prior to the baby’s birth. As one of the most common congenital birth injuries, it involves the underdevelopment of the baby’s spinal cord or its coverings. Doctors need to address this condition with appropriate treatment as soon as it is diagnosed.

Infant spina bifida defined

Derived from the Latin, spina bifida literally means “split spine.” It is a birth defect that affects the neural tube, an embryonic structure that eventually forms into the baby’s spinal cord and brain. Normally, the neural tube will form very early in pregnancy and close about 30 days after conception. However, when the neural tube does not develop properly or fails to close, a defect forms in the spinal cord and the bones of the spine – this is referred to as spina bifida.

Diagnosis of spina bifida

Spina bifida can be diagnosed through the use of ultrasound. A baby with spina bifida will have a cerebellum with a flattened or pooled appearance (a banana sign), or concave frontal bones (a lemon sign). The radiologist may also notice the baby has clubfeet or a brain condition referred to as vetriculomegaly (dilated ventricles). The physician may also use AFP screening or amniocentesis to discover spina bifida.

Forms of spina bifida

There are three specific types of infant spina bifida, each with varying symptoms. They are: occulta, meningocele, and myelomeningocele.

Spina bifida occulta

The weakest form of infant spina bifida is spina bifida occulta. With this birth injury defect, there is a relatively small separation between the spine in the vertebrae. Often, the nerves are unaffected so the child may never develop neurological problems. Visible signs may appear on the infant’s skin above the location of the spinal defect. Additional signs include:

  • An irregular looking tuft of hair
  • A small dimple or birthmark
  • Collection of fat


A rare form of infant spina bifida, referred to as meningocele, occurs when the protective membrane surrounding the spinal cord pushes through the vertebrae opening. The spinal cord develops properly with this form of spina bifida, so it often presents an easier situation to remove the membrane with surgery without causing much if any damage to the nerves. Symptoms of meningocele include a small or large fluid filled sac on the back that can be seen underneath a thin layer of skin.


The most serious form of spina bifida is referred to as myelomeningocele. Another term for this condition is open infant spina bifida. With this type of birth injury, the spinal canal is open or exposed among several vertebrae. At birth, the membrane and spinal cord extend outward, forming a sack on the baby’s back. Sometimes skin will cover the back. However, with this condition, tissues and nerves are exposed, putting the baby at risk for incurring serious, life-threatening infections. Possible symptoms of myelomeningocele include:

  • Seizures
  • Leg muscle weakness – even paralysis in some cases
  • Curved spine, deformed feet, uneven hips, or other orthopedic problems
  • Bowel and bladder issues

Infant spina bifida causes

The causes of infant spina bifida are not known in totality among medical professionals. Some doctors believe that infants develop the condition due to both genetic and environmental causes. Environmental reasons could include simply inadequate prenatal care or a folic acid deficiency. Genetic factors may involve family medical history that includes neural tube defects.

Antidepressants and spina bifida

A number of antidepressants have been connected to the formation of spina bifida in newborns, infants, and children when taken by the mother during her pregnancy. These include:

  • Prozac (Fluoxetine)
  • Zoloft
  • Symbyax (Fluoxetine and Olanzapine)
  • Lexapro (Escitalopram)
  • Paxil
  • Effexor
  • Celexa
  • Wellbutrin (Bupropion)

Depakote and spina bifida

According to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the active ingredient in Depakote, valproic acid, has the potential to cause serious birth defects in babies exposed to the drug before birth. Researchers looking into the issue performed an analysis from eight separate studies. They looked at more than 1500 pregnancies that included data on the mother’s use of Depakote or other types of valproic acid.

The results indicated that women who took Depakote had an elevated risk of incurring about six severe types of birth defects, including cleft palate and spina bifida. Most of the time, the problems occurred in women taking Depakote in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Treatment options

The type of treatment used depends on the form and seriousness of the spina bifida condition. With meningocele, the infant often as surgery to push back the membrane and close the hole in the vertebrae. These babies need immediate attention. Surgery with this most serious spina bifida condition is often performed within a day or two after birth. During the surgical procedure, the spine is positioned back into the vertebrae and the hole is closed to shield the spine and prevent infection.

Another type of prenatal surgery may also be performed in which the physician repairs the baby’s spinal cord. With this serious condition of myelomeningocele, the baby may require continuous care from various medical professionals, including physicians, surgeons, and therapists. If complications arise, additional surgeries may become necessary.

Predisposition or medical negligence?

As mentioned above, infants may be genetically predisposed to acquiring spina bifida in some cases. However, spina bifida can involve medical malpractice if medical care providers failed to properly diagnose the condition in a timely manner and inform the parents. This can occur if the radiologist fails to recognize the signs of the condition or fails to let the obstetrician know about the condition in time. Finally, doctors may be held liable if they prescribed a dangerous drug without warning mothers of the potential risks – and pharmaceutical companies may be liable if they failed to warn consumers about those risks, too.

These are many of the injuries our clients’ children have sustained

Cognitive, Developmental and Intellectual DisabilitiesInfant Spina Bifida
Brachial Plexus Injuries, Klumpke’s Palsy and Erb’s PalsyInfant Spinal Cord Damage
Cerebral PalsyInfant Subconjunctival Hemorrhage
Hypoxic Ischemic EncephalopathyNeonatal Hyperbilirubinemia
Intracranial HemorrhageKernicterus
Shoulder DystociaNeonatal Stroke and Infant Brain Ischemia
Epidural Birth InjuriesPersistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)
Horner’s SyndromeVacuum Extraction Injury
HydrocephalusWrongful Birth
Infant Bell’s PalsyUmbilical Cord Prolapse
Infant Broken Bones and Skull FracturesVacuum Extraction and Forceps Injuries
Infant Cervical Dystonia / Infant Torticollis / Infant Dystonia DisorderMeconium Stained Amniotic Fluid
Infant Meningitis

If your child has spina bifida, we want to help you

If your doctor, radiologist, or other medical professional has failed to diagnose or inform you of your infant’s spina bifida condition, you may have cause to file a medical negligence lawsuit. Our team of attorneys at Crandall & Pera Law can review the circumstances of your baby’s birth injury and fight on your behalf for any compensation you are owed. We serve clients in Ohio and Kentucky. To set up a free consultation, call us today at 877.955.0020 or send us a message through our contact form.