Spina bifida prenatal testing, delivery, and medical malpractice

Spina bifida is a serious fetal medical condition where the spinal cord or brain of an unborn baby doesn’t develop properly. Normally, the baby’s spine closes during the first month of pregnancy, but a neural tube defect prevents that from happening in spina bifida cases.

Because spina bifida is a progressive disease, the potential neurological injuries that it can cause to a baby who’s still in the womb don’t happen all at once. Unfortunately, when neurological damage occurs, though, it’s permanent. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is the key to a better outcome.

Prenatal testing

There are many reasons why it’s important for expecting moms to get early and regular prenatal care with an OB/GYN physician. One of those reasons is to get testing for congenital or other fetal disorders, like spina bifida.

There are two tests that help good OB/GYN doctors diagnose spina bifida long before a baby is born.

The first test is called an ultrasound. An ultrasound is a non-invasive, pain-free test that produces photos, videos, and sound of the baby. The doctor, nurse, or tech moves a transducer around the mom’s belly that sends sound waves to capture data. Trained physicians, like radiologists, OB/GYNs, and maternal fetal medicine specialists, look for classic ultrasound signs of spina bifida, including the banana sign or lemon sign.

If a prenatal physician or provider doesn’t order or perform an ultrasound at the standard time intervals, or misses signs of spina bifida, it’s likely medical malpractice.

The second test is blood work for alpha fetoprotein (AFP). Abnormally high levels are consistent with spina bifida.

If a prenatal physician or provider doesn’t order AFP testing, or if the laboratory doesn’t interpret the results properly, it’s likely medical malpractice.


The state of medicine has made big advances in recent years to treat spina bifida. Once detected, the standard of care requires the OB/GYN physician to consider referral to a specialist for the possibility of fetal surgery.

When appropriate, a qualified fetal surgeon can perform a surgery on a baby who’s still in the mother’s womb to correct the spinal cord or brain defects. Importantly, this will stop any further neurological damages or compromise and limit the functional impact on the person’s long-term ability to live a normal life. In some cases, some patients who had fetal surgery to repair spina bifida are born with no neurological defects at all.

The OB/GYN and labor and delivery team may need to plan ahead to make special arrangements for delivering a baby with spina bifida. For example, if the doctor did not make the proper diagnosis of spina bifida until late in the pregnancy, then delivery should be by Cesarean section (C-Section), rather than a natural vaginal delivery that would put extreme stress and pressure on the already injured spinal cord, causing further damage.

We are here to help

If your baby has been seriously injured because of spina bifida that wasn’t properly or timely diagnosed and treated, then a top-rated, experienced medical malpractice attorney can help. Painter Law Firm is based in Houston, Texas, and handles these birth injury cases in Houston, throughout Texas, and nationwide.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.