Pediatric Spina Bifida

Children's Health℠, rehabilitation physicians and therapists improve the lives of children with spina bifida every day. We work with Children’s Health urologists, neurosurgeons and other specialists to address all aspects of your child’s care. We help with medication management and help your child access all the therapy and equipment they need to move through the world as seamlessly as possible.

We’re one of very few hospitals in the country that performs surgery on babies in the womb to treat more severe types of spina bifida as early as possible. We understand that no two children are alike. We’ll work with your family to create a care plan tailored to your child’s needs.

We care for children from birth throughout childhood and adolescence, and our Spina Bifida Adult Transitions Clinic provides care for people ages 18 to 26. The clinic’s urologist, rehabilitation specialist, social worker and nurse help your child transition from pediatric to adult care.


Fax: 214-456-2497
Ste F4300


Fax: 469-497-2507
Ste P1100

Park Cities

Fax: 469-488-7001
Ste 106

South Rockwall

Fax: 214-456-2497
Ste 233

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What is Pediatric Spina Bifida?

Pediatric spina bifida is a congenital (present at birth) condition in which a child’s spinal column and spinal cord do not develop properly. In spina bifida, the spine bones do not completely close, leaving an opening that exposes the spinal cord, nerves, tissue and spinal fluid. Spina bifida can affect your child’s ability to move and function.

Scientific advances over the past several decades have improved care of spina bifida, and many of the more severe side effects of spina bifida are now rare. Although the severity of spina bifida varies from child to child, almost all children with this condition live full, fruitful lives.

What are the different types of Pediatric Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida can happen anywhere on the spine, but it is most common in the lower back. The lower it happens on the spine, the less severe a child’s symptoms will be.

The three most common types of spina bifida are:

Spina Bifida Occulta

Spina bifida occulta is the mildest and most common type of spina bifida. Many children with this condition never know that they have spina bifida. The main sign of spina bifida occulta is a dimple, patch of hair or red mark on their lower back over the spine.

Spina bifida occulta does not usually cause any disabilities. However, some children with this type of spina bifida may also have a condition called tethered cord. In this condition, the spinal cord does not move easily inside the spinal canal. Without treatment, a tethered cord can cause pain, trouble walking and loss of bladder control, which can occur at any time during your child’s growth. Tethered cord may require surgery to repair if it causes symptoms.


Meningocele is a rare, more severe type of spina bifida. In meningocele, the spinal fluid leaks out through the gap in your child’s spine. Sometimes, this leak can cause a small sac to emerge. This sac can cause a bulge in your child’s skin, although their nerves and spinal cord are in the right place in the spinal canal.


Myelomeningocele is the most severe type of spina bifida and the best-known type A sac containing part of your child’s spinal cord, its covering and spinal fluid pushes through the gap in your child’s spine, creating a bulge in the skin. Children with myelomeningocele often experience loss of feeling and movement in their legs or feet, and bladder and bowel dysfunction. 

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Spina Bifida?

  • A dimple, birthmark or small hairy patch on their back, in spina bifida occulta
  • A small sac that bulges from the spine
  • Bladder or bowel problems, such as frequent urinary tract infections
  • Clubfoot or twisted legs and feet
  • Sensitivity to latex, which is in bottle nipples, pacifiers and other baby products
  • Developmental delays or learning disabilities
  • Weak muscles or paralysis and problems walking

How is Pediatric Spina Bifida diagnosed?

Spina bifida develops during the third and fourth week of pregnancy. Doctors can detect spina bifida during the second trimester of pregnancy through:

  • A blood test that screens for a certain protein that indicates spina bifida
  • An ultrasound to look at your unborn child’s spine
  • Amniocentesis, a test that takes a small sample of fluid from the amniotic sac using a long, thin needle inserted through the mother’s abdomen

After a child is born, a doctor can diagnose spina bifida using imaging, such as:

What are the causes of Pediatric Spina Bifida?

There is no single cause for spina bifida. Certain factors can increase the risk of having a baby with spina bifida, including:

  • A diet too low in folic acid during pregnancy
  • A family history of spina bifida
  • Diabetes in the mother
  • Certain medications, taken before or during pregnancy, that can cause folic acid deficiency, such as anti-epileptic medications and some cancer medications

At Children’s Health, our doctors screen every pregnant person for spina bifida in their baby during the second trimester.

Doctors recommend that pregnant people take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, which is the amount found in prenatal vitamins. Certain foods, such as dark green vegetables, egg yolks and certain fruits, also provide the recommended daily amount. Although getting 400 micrograms of folic acid every day doesn’t guarantee that your baby will not have spina bifida, it can drastically reduce the risk.

How is Pediatric Spina Bifida treated?

Children who have spina bifida occulta may never need treatment unless they experience health complications from their condition. Children with more severe forms of spina bifida may need:

  • Prenatal surgery. Children’s Health is one of the few hospitals in the region that has the special expertise to perform surgery on a fetus during pregnancy. Doctors in our FETAL Center work to repair the spinal opening while the baby is attached to the umbilical cord, then return the fetus to the mother’s womb. This procedure can reduce the likelihood that your child will have problems with walking and other movement.
  • Surgery. A neurosurgeon performs surgery on children with severe spina bifida a day or two after they are born to close the opening and prevent further damage or infection. Within your child’s first month of life, a neurosurgeon might also need to perform a procedure to help prevent increased fluid in your child’s brain. Your child may also need orthopedic surgery to correct any issues with their feet.
  • Urology care. Often, children with spina bifida have nerve damage that keeps their bladder from emptying as it should. This bladder problem can cause frequent urinary tract infections and kidney problems. Children with bladder issues may need help from our urologists (specialists in urinary tract conditions).
  • Consultation with a physiatrist or rehabilitation specialist. Most children with severe forms of spina bifida will experience developmental delays. Our physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists help ensure that your child is getting the therapies and equipment they need to succeed. They also help with accommodations for your child at school. They also might address issues such as pain, muscle tightness and skin problems due to limited movement and feeling.

Pediatric Spina Bifida Doctors and Providers

Our experts collaborate with specialists across Children’s Health to coordinate your child’s care for every symptom of spina bifida. Together, we can get your child on a path to a functional, comfortable life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will my child be able to walk?

    Your rehabilitation specialist can help answer this question, and it depends on your child’s condition. Some children with mild spina bifida never experience symptoms. Others have limited mobility or function. Some children may be unable to move certain parts of their body or walk without special equipment or bracing. The good news is that most children treated today for spina bifida live full, productive lives.

  • Is my child in pain?

    Your child may have pain for various reasons. With expertise and compassion, our team will evaluate your child’s pain levels and help your child manage pain, mobility, function and medications. We will work with you to make your child as comfortable as possible throughout their lives.


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