Can a baby be born without a brain? It may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but the answer, tragically enough, is “yes”. A baby born without a brain is given the medical term anencephalic and is said to suffer from anencephaly, a condition where the majority of the brain doesn’t develop. This strange aberration only occurs in about one in ten thousand births, but incidence is up to ten times higher. In the majority of cases, the pregnancy is lost before the brainless baby is born. What causes an anencephalic baby?
Anencephaly: Baby Born Without a Brain
Anencephaly occurs during development when a portion of the developing fetus called the neural tube that forms part of the brain and spinal cord doesn’t close properly. This improper closure can cause complete failure of the baby’s brain to develop – or only a portion of it. Abnormal genes from the baby’s parents play a role, but environmental factors, particularly a lack of the vitamin folate, plays an important role.
Doctors strongly advise moms-to-be to take folate supplements before trying to become pregnant to reduce the risk of this problem and its unfortunate consequences. To reduce the risk of this devastating event, moms need to take folate as early as possible in the course of their pregnancy.
Other factors that increase the risk of having a baby born without a brain are type-1 diabetes and taking a seizure medication called valproic acid.
Can a Baby Born Without a Brain Survive?
A baby born without a brain can’t survive for any significant length of time. Some anencephalic babies are born alive, but they die shortly after birth. Needless, to say this is a stressful time for the unfortunate parents.
Fortunately, there is a test called the maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein test that can detect cases of anencephaly before the baby is born. Families who give birth to an ancephalic baby should get genetic counseling. Folic acid supplements may lower the risk of having an anencephalic baby in the future if they’re begun at least three months before conceiving.
The Bottom Line?
A baby born without a brain is a tragic complication that can be devastating to the family. Fortunately, there are ways to detect this condition early through a serum alpha-fetoprotein test. In many cases, it can be prevented by taking folate supplements prior to and during pregnancy.