Genetics and Spina Bifida

There is no way to prevent a baby from having a birth defect, it is only possible to reduce the risk. Understanding how genetics plays a role in pregnancy may help you with family planning. If you have a family history of Spina Bifida and are planning a family, you should consult a genetic counselor about pregnancy, risks, and tests.

What is Spina Bifida?

Typically occurring in the first month of pregnancy, Spina bifida happens when the spine of a baby in the womb does not close all the way. Every day, about eight babies who are born in the USA have Spina Bifida (SB) or a similar birth defect.

What causes Spina Bifida?

No one knows for sure. Experts think that both genetics (one or more genes) and environmental factors interact to cause Spina Bifida.

Can Spina Bifida be prevented?

There is no way to prevent a baby from having a birth defect. It is only possible to reduce the risk. Studies show that the risk is reduced up to 70 percent when women take folic acid at least one month before and through the first three months of pregnancy. However, it’s important to note that folic acid does not prevent all cases of Spina Bifida. There is still a chance that some babies will have it even when women take the right amount every day.

Who is at risk for having a baby with Spina Bifida?

Any woman who is capable of becoming pregnant can have a baby with Spina Bifida. Although people with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling) with Spina Bifida are more likely to have a child with Spina Bifida, there is no way to tell which women will have babies with an affected pregnancy.

Experts know that genes play a role, and they are looking for the exact gene(s) that cause Spina Bifida. In time, research should clearly show how Spina Bifida develops so new treatments or even a cure can be developed. This research may also lead to new tests that help people or couples understand their chance of having a baby with Spina Bifida.

This information does not constitute medical advice for any individual. As special cases may vary from the general information presented here, SBA advises readers to consult a qualified medical or other professional on an individual basis.

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  • Resource

    A Guide to Spina Bifida For Expectant and New Parents

  • Resource


  • Resource

    Prenatal Counseling Guideline