Understanding Birth Defects – What You Need to Know
January 13, 2022January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, an opportunity to raise awareness of birth defects, their causes, and prevention. Not all birth defects can be prevented, but moms can increase their chances of delivering healthy babies by treating and staying on top of health conditions and practicing healthy behaviors before and during pregnancy. Here is a look at some common types of birth defects, as well as tips to help ensure you’re doing what’s best for you and your baby.
Defining Birth Defects
A birth defect is something abnormal about a newborn baby that occurs while the baby is developing. It can be a visual defect, an internal abnormality, or a chemical imbalance such as phenylketonuria, which can result in developmental delays.
Between 2% and 3% of infants have one or more defects at birth – that’s one out of every 33 babies.1
Types of Birth Defects
According to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, there are two main categories of birth defects: structural and functional (also known as developmental).2
Structural birth defects are problems related to the structure of the body and include cleft lip or cleft palate, heart defects, abnormal limbs, neural tube defects, and issues with the growth and development of the brain and spinal cord.
Functional, or developmental birth defects affect a part or system of the body and how it functions. Functional birth defects can include nervous system problems; vision, hearing, or other sensory problems; metabolic disorders such as chemical imbalances; and degenerative disorders, including muscular dystrophy, that might not be detected until a child is older.
The Causes of Birth Defects
Though medical experts do not know the exact causes of most birth defects, they do know genetic or hereditary factors, infection during pregnancy, and drug exposure during pregnancy can contribute to them.
While women have little control over genetic or hereditary factors, they do have control over environmental factors such as lifestyle, infection, and drug use.
The following factors can increase a woman’s chances of having a baby who has a birth defect:3
- Smoking, drinking alcohol or taking certain types of illegal drugs during pregnancy.
- Obesity and uncontrolled diabetes before and during pregnancy.
- Certain prescription drugs.
Preventing Birth Defects
You may be able to reduce your baby’s chances of being born with a defect by taking these steps recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.4
- Before you become pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight.
- Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
- Consult your healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medicine.
- Become up-to-date with all vaccines, including the flu shot.
- Boost your health by avoiding substances that are harmful during pregnancy.
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