Birth defects, also called congenital disorders, are health problems that a child is born with. They represent a wide range of health conditions, ranging from minor to life-threatening. Babies born with birth defects are at a greater risk for disabilities or illnesses later in life.
Types of Birth Defects
Though there are literally thousands of types of birth defects, some of the most common ones include spina bifida, Down syndrome, cleft palate and heart defects. Some birth defects are easy to see on a newborn baby, but others, such as heart, lung or hearing problems, are not outwardly visible. These birth defects require special testing to diagnose and treat. Similarly, some birth defects, such as cleft palate, can be treated and corrected, while others are lifelong disabilities.
Causes and Prevention
In many cases, birth defects are genetic disorders that are passed down from parents to a child. There is little that can be done to prevent this. There are, however, a number of other steps a mother can take before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects.
These steps include abstaining from using alcohol, tobacco or drugs during pregnancy. It’s also important to speak with a health-care provider about what prescription medications, herbs, supplements and foods should and should not be taken. In addition, studies have shown that taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, starting even before pregnancy, is helpful in reducing risk. And finally, strive to get health problems like diabetes or obesity under control before becoming pregnant as they can also increase risk.
In many cases, birth defects can be detected via testing before birth. Though this can be a stressful decision, it can help parents plan for caring for a child with a birth defect. Also, the treatment or preparation to treat the birth defect may be able to begin even before birth.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; March of Dimes