Defectos de Nacimiento
En EspaƱol

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What should I do to have a healthy pregnancy?
  2. What is a birth defect?
  3. What are the most common birth defects?
  4. What is my chance of having a baby with a birth defect?
  5. What causes birth defects?
  6. Do genetic factors play a role in causing birth defects?
  7. Does alcohol cause birth defects?
  8. Does smoking cause birth defects?
  9. Do illegal drugs cause birth defects?
  10. When in pregnancy do birth defects happen?
  11. What kind of health care provider can help find out what caused my baby?s birth defect?
  12. Who coordinates the health care of my child who has a birth defect?
  13. What does a genetic counselor do?
  14. Where can I find a clinical geneticist or genetic counselor?
  15. Where can I get information about my baby's birth defect or genetic condition?
  16. How can I get in touch with parents of a child with the same birth defect as my child?

1. What should I do to have a healthy pregnancy?

Plan your pregnancy

  • See your health care provider before getting pregnant
  • Begin your pregnancy at a healthy weight and talk with your health care provider about weight gain during pregnancy
  • Get any medical condition (obesity, diabetes, seizures, etc.) under control before getting pregnant
  • Take a vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during pregnancy

Take care of yourself

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Exercise moderately
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Avoid contact with chemicals and other substances in the home and workplace that may harm an unborn baby
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs
  • Talk with your health care provider before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications

If you are planning to get pregnant or you are already pregnant, one of the most important things you can do is see your health care provider. Prenatal (before birth) care can help find some problems early in pregnancy so that they can be monitored or treated before birth. Some problems might be avoided with prenatal care.

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but a woman can take some actions that increase her chance of having a healthy baby. Many birth defects happen very early in pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. Remember that about half of all pregnancies in Florida are not planned.

Return To Top Of Page


2. What is a birth defect?

A birth defect is a problem that happens while the baby is developing in the mother's body. Most birth defects happen during the first 3 months of pregnancy. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality in Florida and across the nation accounting for more than 20% of all infant deaths. Babies born with birth defects have a greater chance of illness and long term disability than babies without birth defects.

A birth defect may affect how the body looks, works, or both. It can be found before birth, at birth, or anytime after birth. Most defects are found within the first year of life. Some birth defects (such as cleft lip or clubfoot) are easy to see, but others (such as heart defects or hearing loss) are found using special tests (such as x-rays, CAT scans, or hearing tests). Birth defects can vary from mild to severe.

Some birth defects can cause the baby to die. Babies with birth defects may need surgery or other medical treatments, but, if they receive the help they need, these babies often lead full lives.

Return To Top Of Page


3. What are the most common birth defects?

More than 6,000 babies, approximately one of every 35 babies, are born each year with major birth defects in Florida. A birth defect can affect almost any part of the body. The well being of the child depends mostly on which organ or body part is involved and how much it is affected.

Many birth defects affect the heart. According to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 1 in every 100 to 200 babies is born with a heart defect. Heart defects make up about one-third to one-fourth of all birth defects. Some of these heart defects can be serious, and a few are very severe.

Other common birth defects are "neural tube defects," which are defects of the spine (spina bifida) and brain (anencephaly). They affect about 1 of 1,000 pregnancies. These defects can be serious and are often life threatening. They happen less often than heart defects, but they cause many fetal and infant deaths.

Birth defects of the lip and roof of the mouth are also common. These birth defects, known as "orofacial clefts," include cleft lip, cleft palate, and combined cleft lip and cleft palate. Cleft lip is more common than cleft palate. In many places of the world, orofacial clefts affect about 1 in 700 to 1,000 babies.

Some birth defects are common but rarely life threatening, though they often require medical and surgical attention. "Hypospadias," for example, is a fairly common defect found in male babies. In babies with hypospadias, the opening of the urethra (where urine comes out) is not at the tip of the penis but on the underside. Treatment depends on how far away from the tip the opening is and can involve complex surgery. This defect is rarely as serious as the others listed above, but it can cause great concern and sometimes has high medical costs. It rarely causes death.

Return To Top Of Page


4. What is my chance of having a baby with a birth defect?

In the United States, about 3-4% of babies are born with birth defects. Some women have a higher chance of having a child with a birth defect. Women over the age of 35 years have a higher chance of having a child with Down syndrome than women who are younger. If taken when a woman is pregnant, certain medications and drugs can increase the chance of birth defects. Also, women who smoke and use alcohol while pregnant have a higher risk of having a baby with certain birth defects. Other women have a higher chance of having a baby with a birth defect because someone in their family had a similar birth defect. To learn more about your risk of having a baby with a birth defect, you can talk with a genetic counselor. Also, to reduce your chances of having a baby with a birth defect, talk with your health care provider about any medicines that you take, do not drink alcohol or smoke, and be sure to take 400 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid every day and prior to pregnancy. It is the amount of folic acid found in most multivitamins.

Return To Top Of Page


5. What causes birth defects?

We do not know what causes most birth defects. Sometimes they just happen and are not caused by anything that the parents did or didn't do. Most birth defects happen to families with no family history of birth defects. Many parents feel guilty if they have a child with a birth defect even if they did everything they could to have a healthy child. If you have a child with a birth defect, it might be helpful to talk with other parents who have had a child with the same condition. Sometimes the causes of birth defects are figured out after the baby is born. Whenever possible, it is important to know what you can do for a better chance of having a healthy child in the future. Some actions might increase the chances of having a baby with a birth defect. The questions and answers that follow talk about some of these known risks.

Return To Top Of Page


6. Do genetic factors play a role in causing birth defects?

Yes, some birth defects "run in the family." Babies with certain types of birth defects may have an extra or a missing chromosome. Birth defects can also happen when just a piece of a chromosome is missing or if just an extra piece is added. Also, certain genes may make a fetus more sensitive to things that cause birth defects.

Return To Top Of Page


7. Does alcohol cause birth defects?

Prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause a spectrum of disorders. One of the most severe effects of drinking during pregnancy is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS is one of the leading known preventable causes of mental retardation and birth defects. If a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy, her baby can be born with FAS, a lifelong, physically and mentally disabling condition. FAS is characterized by (1) abnormal facial features, (2) growth deficiencies, and (3) central nervous system (CNS) problems. People with FAS may have problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, and/or hearing. These problems often lead to difficulties in school and problems getting along with others. FAS is a permanent condition. It affects every aspect of an individual's life and the lives of his or her family. However, FAS is 100% preventable-if a woman does not drink alcohol while she is pregnant.

Return To Top Of Page


8. Does smoking cause birth defects?

A woman who smokes while she is pregnant has a greater chance of having a premature (early) birth, a small baby, or a stillborn baby. If the mother smokes while pregnant, there is also an increased risk of the baby dying during the first year of life. Some types of birth defects have been linked to the mother's smoking. Birth defects that may be increased when the mother smokes include: cleft lip, cleft palate, clubfoot, limb defects, some types of heart defects, gastroschisis (an opening in the muscles of the abdomen that allows the intestines to appear outside the body), and imperforate anus (there is no opening from the intestines to the outside of the body to allow stool or gas to be passed). Talk with your health care provider about ways to help you quit smoking if you are pregnant or can get pregnant.

Return To Top Of Page


9. Do illegal drugs cause birth defects?

Women who use illegal drugs, or "street drugs," can have babies who are small, premature, or have other health problems, such as birth defects.

Women who use cocaine while pregnant are more likely to have babies with birth defects of the limbs, gut, kidneys, urinary system, and heart. Other drugs, such as marijuana and ecstasy, may also cause birth defects in babies.

Women should not use street drugs while they are pregnant. It is also important that women not use street drugs after they give birth because drugs can be passed through breast milk and can affect a baby's growth and development. Talk with your health care provider about ways to help you quit using street drugs before you get pregnant.

Return To Top Of Page


10. When in pregnancy do birth defects happen?

Birth defects happen before a baby is born. Inherited or genetic factors; things in the environment, such as smoking or drinking alcohol or not getting enough folic acid; and a woman's illness during pregnancy can cause birth defects. Most birth defects happen in the first 3 months of pregnancy, when the organs of the baby are forming. This is the most important stage of development. However, some birth defects happen later in pregnancy. During the last six months of pregnancy, the tissues and organs continue to grow and develop.

Some birth defects can be found before birth. If you want to know more about your risk of having a baby with a birth defect, contact a genetic counselor.

Return To Top Of Page


11. What kind of health care provider can help find out what caused my baby's birth defect?

Birth defects are common in our country. Some birth defects are found before birth, some at the time of birth, and some are found during the first year of life. A few don't show up until the child is older. It is common for parents to want to know what caused their baby's birth defect. However, the causes for about 70% birth defects are unknown.

A primary care provider (PCP) usually looks at a child who may have a birth defect. The PCP is most often the child's pediatrician or the family's general physician. PCPs look for important clues in the child's first exam for a birth defect. The first exam includes a lot of questions about history, a physical exam, and sometimes testing. The PCP is trying to find a "diagnosis" (name or cause) for the child's type of birth defect. If a diagnosis cannot be made after the first exam, the PCP may refer the child to a specialist in birth defects and genetics. A clinical geneticist is a doctor with special training to evaluate patients who may have genetic conditions or birth defects. Even if a child sees a specialist, an exact diagnosis may not be reached.

Counseling the family of an infant with a birth defect is a large part of the PCP's job. PCPs may refer parents to a genetic counselor to help parents learn more about their infant's condition. A genetic counselor explains the diagnosis, the possible role of genes, and medical aspects of the birth defect. A genetic counselor can talk with parents about their risk of having future children with a birth defect. He or she also talks with parents about how to lessen their chances of having another baby with birth defects. Counseling can help a family adjust to and plan for their newborn.

Return To Top Of Page


12.Who coordinates the health care of my child who has a birth defect?

The PCP usually provides the basic care of a child with a birth defect. The PCP should know about sources of help for the child and the family. Help may include support groups, public health services, and current medical literature. The PCP also coordinates the child's care. For example, children with birth defects involving their bones may need to see an orthopedist, a doctor trained in problems with the bones. A child with a birth defect involving the brain may need to see a neurologist, who is trained to deal with problems in the brain and nervous system. The PCP may also send the child for special services that will help the child function better. For example, a child with a cleft palate may be sent to a speech therapist, someone with special training who works with people to improve their ability to talk. Another common referral is for physical therapy to improve the child's strength and movement.

Many children with birth defects have more than one problem and may need one or more specialists. The PCP coordinates the care of a child with a birth defect so that he gets all the special care he needs.

In summary, birth defects are common, but the causes for many birth defects are not known at this time. The PCP is generally the best person to coordinate the special care needed for a child with a birth defect.

Return To Top Of Page


13. What does a genetic counselor do?

A genetic counselor talks with you about birth defects and genetic conditions. Genetic counselors are part of the health care team and have special training to help families learn about birth defects and conditions passed down through a family. They can guide families to other resources for help. They also help families deal with feelings about how these conditions affect their family. People talk about both medical and personal questions during genetic counseling. Genetic counselors ask questions about family history and pregnancy history. They talk with families about tests used to find a condition and, if known, about how to prevent a condition.

There are many reasons to see a genetic counselor. Some people go because of a family history of a genetic condition. Others see a genetic counselor because they have trouble getting pregnant or because they have had several miscarriages or infant deaths. Some women may see a genetic counselor after learning the results of a blood test or because of their age. Still others seek genetic counseling to learn about the effects of being exposed to things like x-rays, chemicals, illness, or drugs while pregnant.

Return To Top Of Page


14. Where can I find a clinical geneticist or genetic counselor?

Your best source is your health care provider. He or she will know about the resources in your area. Also, you can call the nearest university medical school or large medical center. To reach them, call the main telephone number and ask for "genetics."

Return To Top Of Page


15. Where can I get information about my baby's birth defect or genetic condition?

If your child has a birth defect, you should ask his or her doctor about local resources and treatment. Geneticists and genetic counselors are another resource.

The Florida Department of Health (Florida Birth Defects Registry and Children's Medical Services) can give you general information about birth defects or you may want to contact one of the state or national groups listed below. These groups have fact sheets or brochures or can direct you to support groups, where you can meet and talk with other parents of children with the same type of birth defect. Many support groups also have brochures and books to help you learn more about birth defects.

  • Florida Department of Health
  • March of Dimes
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
  • Spina Bifida Association of America
  • National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc. (NORD)
  • National Birth Defects Prevention Network

Return To Top Of Page


16. How can I get in touch with parents of a child with the same birth defect as my child?

It is helpful for many parents to have contact with other parents of a child with the same type of birth defect that your child has. Parents of a child with the same birth defect may have learned how to deal with some concerns and questions you have. Often, they can give you hints about good resources for your child's special needs. They can share what worked best with their child. Talking with them may provide emotional support and ways to help you deal better with issues about your child. These resources may be helpful for you:

  • Your child's health care specialist who deals with other children with birth defects is one of the best sources for contact information about support groups. The health care specialist could be a genetic counselor, a neurologist or neurosurgeon, an orthopedist, a developmental pediatrician, a physical or occupational therapist, and some other specialists. Children's hospitals in your area may sponsor some groups, too.
  • A national organization dealing with your child's birth defect, such as Spina Bifida Association of America, that has a state or local branch, such as Spina Bifida Association of Georgia, may exist. State or local area March of Dimes offices could also be helpful. United Way offices may be able to point out resources. Look in the phone book or on the Web for phone numbers and addresses.
  • Internet searches will most likely result in several Web sites for you to check out. Be careful not to trust all that you read on the Internet. Some Web sites give good information, but others may not. Choose Web sites that are associated with well-known national or regional organizations. There are many Web sites of parents with children who have birth defects. Some may suggest things that don't "feel" right to you. If you have questions or concerns about anything you read on the Web, be sure to ask your child's health care specialist about it.

1998-2002

 

 

Florida

 

 

Birth Defects for 1,004,938 Live Births

 

 

Children with Structural Birth Defects

28737

1 in 35

Specific Conditions

 

 

Congenital Heart Defects

14157

1 in 71

Chromosomal Abnormalities

1540

1 in 653

        Down Syndrome

1302

1 in 772

Oral Clefts

1378

1 in 729

Neural Tube Defects

483

1 in 2,081

Abdominal Wall Defects

636

1 in 1,580

Limb Malformations

309

1 in 3,252

Infant Deaths with Birth Defects

1077

1 in 933

Source: Florida Birth Defects Registry
Florida Vital Statistics
Department of Health
University of South Florida

Return To Top Of Page


Information presented does not constitute medical diagnosis or health care advice. Please see a healthcare professional for individual information.