Baby boy develops 15cm 'tail' because of vitamin deficiency

By Kirstin Buick
25 May 2016

Please note this article contains graphic photos.

Doctors in China have removed a 15-centimetre "tail" from a baby boy which grew as part of a deformity during his mother’s pregnancy.

The family of the child who had been nicknamed "little monkey" by his relatives, waited almost a year before finally deciding to have the surgery.

Yang Yang, who is now 11 months old, was born with the tail-like growth identified as a neural tube deformity - an extremely rare phenomenon with a two to three percent chance of occurring. The growth, which usually forms during the third month of pregnancy, is sometimes known as a Vestigial tail. In the first month of development, an embryo grows a structure called the neural tube that will eventually grow to form the spine and nervous system. In Yang Yang's case doctors believe something went wrong during this growth phase.

Lin Jiangkai, lead physician in Yang Yang’s operation, said the growth was most probably due to the child’s mother not taking enough folic acid supplements -- also referred to as vitamin M or vitamin Bc -- during pregnancy, which is known to cause neural tube defects (see below).

Yang Yang’s mother said that the family noticed the growth as soon as the child was born in Junlian County of Yibin, a city in south-western China’s Sichuan Province, but they decided to avoid surgery if at all possible.

The mum, unnamed in reports, said: "It wasn’t a big bother in the beginning - I’d just lift the ‘tail’ when I needed to change his nappies."

But several months later Yang Yang started developing odd symptoms such as irregular bowel movements and a weakness in his legs, the mum said.

The family then decided to have the growth surgically removed at Southwest Hospital in the neighbouring city of Chongqing.

The tail was removed during a successful surgery, with Lin noting that the child could have had developmental problems in his lower limbs if the family had waited any longer.

birth defect

Folic acid during pregnancy

Folic acid prevents neural tube defects, or birth flaws of the brain and spinal cord, in the baby during pregnancy.

The two most common birth faults are anencephaly and spina bifida. In spina bifida, the fetal spinal column doesn’t close completely during the first month of pregnancy. This usually results in nerve damage that causes at least some paralysis of the legs.

In anencephaly, much of the brain doesn’t develop. Babies with anencephaly are either stillborn or die shortly after  birth.

The formation of the neural tube starts from the moment women conceive, so prospective moms are advised to start taking folic acid (0.4 mg a day) when they decide to try for child, preferably for at least three months before trying for a baby.

Foods rich in folic acid include lentils, oranges, spinach, beetroot, Brussels sprouts and avocados. However, it’s impossible to get the recommended daily amount of folic acid wholly from food so moms to be are always advised to take a supplement.

'It is possible'

It a pregnant woman doesn't get enough folic acid during her pregnancy, her baby could develop a similar defect, says Professor David Hall, a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Stellenbosch Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology,

"Folic acid is found naturally in raw green leafy vegetables," says Professor David Hall, adding that many women lack enough folic acid in their diet.

"The deficiency of folic acid leads to the defect called neural tube that encompasses the brain and the spinal cord."

The specialist adds that in order to prevent this defect, a woman would need the prenatal vitamin either before she falls pregnant or extremely early in the pregnancy.

"Most women in the public hospitals come very late but [folic acid] is quite cheap and easily available.

"You do not need any prescription and an amount of 800 micrograms (the minimum or better) once a day. For my patients I provide 2,5 milli grams."

Adapted from Magazine Features

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