When you're pregnant, no symptoms will indicate that your baby has developed spina bifida. Your doctor may suggest various prenatal (before birth) tests.
- Blood tests. The maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) test looks for alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). Abnormally high levels may indicate that your baby's spinal column has not developed properly (a neural tube defect). Doctors order two or three other blood tests with the MSAFP test. Looking at the other tests can help doctors determine whether your baby has a chromosome abnormality, such as Down syndrome.
- Ultrasound. To help determine the condition of your baby, your doctor may use an ultrasound exam, which bounces high-frequency sound waves off tissues in your body, and forms black and white images on a small video monitor. This test often detects abnormalities of the spinal cord.
- Amniocentesis. If the ultrasound exam doesn't explain the high levels of AFP, your doctor may suggest amniocentesis. Your doctor will insert a needle into the amniotic sac within your abdomen and remove samples of fluid. High levels of AFP in the fluid may indicate the presence of spina bifida, but amniocentesis cannot indicate its severity.
When spina bifida is diagnosed before birth, you and your doctor can plan for delivery in a specially equipped medical center so your baby can have any necessary treatment soon after birth.