Every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect. Some birth defects are mild-like an extra finger or toe. Some birth defects are very serious-like a heart defect. Birth defects can cause physical, mental, or medical problems. Down syndrome is caused by genetic factors, while others are caused by certain drugs, medicines, or chemicals. But the causes of most birth defects are unknown and researchers are working hard to learn the causes of birth defects so we can find ways to prevent them.
The good news is that new ways of preventing and treating birth defects are being identified. Genes that may cause birth defects are being found everyday, providing hope for new treatments and cures. Genetic counseling provides parents with information about their risk based on family history, age, ethnic or racial background, or other factors. Better healthcare for mothers with diabetes or seizures can improve their chances of having healthy babies. Today, babies born with birth defects can live longer and healthier lives. Special care after birth and newborn screening tests can help these babies.
Prevention Not all birth defects can be prevented. But, there are things that a woman can do before and during pregnancy to increase her chance of having a healthy baby:
Causes and Risk Factors
Birth defects occur before a baby is born. Most birth defects occur in the first 3 months of pregnancy, when the organs of the baby are forming. This is a very important stage of development. However, some birth defects occur later in pregnancy. During the last six months of pregnancy, the tissues and organs continue to grow and develop.
Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors. These factors include our genes, our behaviors, and things in the environment. For some birth defects, we know the cause. But for most, we don't.
We do know that some women have a higher chance of having a child with a birth defect:
Living with a Birth Defect
If your child has a birth defect, you should ask his or her doctor about local resources and treatment. Geneticists, genetic counselors, and other specialists are another resource. More Information can be found here.