Spina bifida is part of a group of birth defects called neural tube defects. The neural tube is the embryonic structure that eventually develops into the baby's brain and spinal cord and the tissues that enclose them.
Normally, the neural tube forms early in the pregnancy and closes by the 28th day after conception. In babies with spina bifida, a portion of the neural tube fails to develop or close properly, causing defects in the spinal cord and in the bones of the spine.
Spina bifida occurs in various forms of severity. When treatment for spina bifida is necessary, it's done surgically, although such treatment doesn't always completely resolve the problem.