The most common and most serious form of spina bifida is myelomeningocele, a defect in which the bones of the spine (spinal canal) do not form completely, leaving the spinal cord exposed. Myelomengingocele is usually diagnosed prenatally (before birth), leaving parents to wonder to what extent their child’s function and quality of life will be impaired. Most infants with myelomeningocele will undergo surgery shortly after birth to attempt to correct the defect, although symptoms, including paralysis, may be permanent.
Prenatal surgery has long been associated with risk to the mother and the fetus and little evidence of success, even though surgeons have reasoned that medical abnormalities could be more easily fixed while the fetus is still developing. A study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reveals that prenatal surgery may actually provide a better outcome for babies with spina bifida than postnatal surgery.
The study was considered so successful that an independent safety monitoring board stopped it early so that babies who were scheduled for the post-birth operation could be considered for prenatal surgery instead. Improvements with prenatal operation include:
- Improved motor outcome
- Improved mental function
- Reduced need for shunting
- Decreased risk of death
- Increased the likelihood of being able to walk independently
As with any treatment, there are risks; study authors noted that the likelihood of preterm birth was higher for babies who underwent prenatal surgery, and increased incidents of maternal health risks.
Helping Babies with Other Birth Defects
Approximately 1,500 babies are born each year with spina bifida, and one in every 33 babies is born with some sort of birth defect. While some defects are not apparent until a baby is born, many are diagnosed but have not been treatable before birth. The success of prenatal surgery found in the study opens doors for more birth defects to be treated prenatally, including serious heart defects. If your unborn baby has been diagnosed with a birth defect, be sure to ask your doctor about all possible treatments, including prenatal options.
If you feel a drug may be to blame for your baby’s birth defect, contact us today to discuss what your next step should be.