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Feeding Challenges and Options for Babies With Spina Bifida

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3 min read


Breastfeeding presents unique challenges for infants with spina bifida due to its impact on the nervous system. Read the article to know how to tackle this.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham

Published At January 24, 2024
Reviewed AtJanuary 24, 2024


Breastfeeding is a universally acknowledged cornerstone of infant health and development. It boosts a baby's immune system and provides vital nutrients, among many other benefits. Many parents regard breastfeeding as a personal and nourishing experience that strengthens the link between mother and child. But this special trip might face particular difficulties when a baby is born with spina bifida, a congenital disorder affecting the spinal cord.

What Is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida is a congenital condition that originates during fetal development, where the spinal cord and adjacent vertebrae do not develop correctly. A split or gap in the spine results from this abnormal development; therefore, the term "split spine." The degree and location of the spinal cord abnormalities determine the severity and range of effects associated with spina bifida. This illness differs from person to person and can impact body processes, making it a complex and distinct illness with a wide range of issues.

How Can Babies With Spina Bifida Overcome Breastfeeding Challenges?

Spina bifida, a congenital condition affecting the spinal cord and surrounding vertebrae, presents unique challenges for breastfeeding due to its impact on the nervous system, particularly the spinal cord. The nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, regulates many body processes, such as sensation, movement, and the operation of the bladder and bowels. Spina bifida babies may experience difficulties with these functions, which can have a significant impact on the breastfeeding experience in several ways.

  1. Sensory and Motor Impairments: Spina bifida patients may experience difficulties with their brain's ability to perceive bodily sensations. This is because damage to the spinal cord might affect these abilities. The baby's ability to move and receive feelings, particularly the crucial task of latching onto the breast, is impacted by this reduced sensory feedback. Due to this, it could be harder for babies to nurse well, necessitating patience and specific placement to make breastfeeding successful.

  2. Bladder and Bowel Function: Babies with spina bifida often have trouble controlling their bowel and bladder movements, which can result in incontinence. These difficulties might cause breastfeeding sessions to be disrupted, requiring extra attention, understanding, and feeding schedule modifications to meet the baby's unique requirements.

What Are the Most Effective Breastfeeding Techniques and Support for Infants with Spina Bifida?

Breastfeeding is still advised for infants with spina bifida despite these difficulties. Many parents can breastfeed their infants effectively with the correct techniques and assistance. Here are some crucial things to remember:

  1. Positioning: Finding a nursing position that is both functional and comfortable for the mother and the infant may take some trial and error. It is imperative to modify the selected position to consider the infant's particular requirements and any physical restrictions brought on by the illness.

  2. Burping Technique: A gentle technique can be more comfortable and effective than standard patting. One example of this technique is placing the infant over the mother's shoulder and massaging their upper back. This promotes the baby's comfort during and after feeding by assisting in releasing air bubbles.

  3. Early Expression: To establish the mother's milk supply for babies needing neonatal care, it is imperative to begin expressing breast milk as soon as feasible. Healthcare providers, like midwives or neonatal nurses, should be guided to enable early hand expression, ideally within two hours of delivery.

  4. Hydrocephalus and Feeding Positions: A build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain's ventricles is known as hydrocephalus, and it can occur in certain babies with spina bifida. A side-lying posture with head support may be used for comfort and safety during nursing and bottle feeding, depending on the baby's unique situation.

  5. Expert Support: When tackling the complex issues of nursing in babies with spina bifida, having access to a multidisciplinary team of experts is vital. This team may include neonatal nurses, midwives, lactation consultants, and speech and language therapists. These experts can provide direction, customized remedies, and emotional support to the mother and child.

Can Formula Feeding Be Considered as an Alternative to Breastfeeding in Babies With Spina Bifida?

Breastfeeding is unquestionably the best method to feed babies because it has several health advantages for both the mother and the child. Format feeding can occasionally be viable and even required in certain circumstances. Parents must be able to weigh the benefits of both feeding techniques to decide which will work best for their family.

  • Benefits of Formula Feeding:

  1. Wholesome Nourishment: Formula for infants gives them a well-rounded and comprehensive diet. It has the exact ratio of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients needed for normal development and growth.

  2. Flexibility: Families with certain demands or restrictions may find formula feeding to give flexibility. It gives the primary caregiver some respite by enabling other caregivers to assist with feeding.

  3. Control: Using a formula gives a person exact control over how much and when to feed one’s kid. This is useful in some circumstances, such as when it is important to monitor their intake.

  4. Avoiding Breastfeeding Challenges: Certain medical disorders, latching problems, or other challenges might make breastfeeding difficult for certain moms and their infants. In these situations, formula feeding might offer a dependable substitute to guarantee the infant's nutrition.

  5. Monitoring Intake: When a baby is fed formula, parents may precisely gauge and keep track of how much milk the child drinks at each meal. This might be especially important for infants who have special dietary needs.


In conclusion, nursing a child who has spina bifida is a journey that may present particular difficulties. Still, it can also be a joyful experience for both mother and child if the proper assistance, tolerance, and direction are provided. Whether a baby is fed by breast milk or formula, the most important thing is to put their health and nutritional needs first. Parents may effectively manage these hurdles and give their infants the best care possible by collaborating closely with healthcare experts. It is possible to breastfeed a child with spina bifida, and doing so presents a unique chance for nurturing and bonding even in the face of hardship.

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Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham
Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham



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