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What every mom should know about common birth defects

What every mom should know about common birth defects

It’s a topic that no expectant parent wants to think about, but it’s important to know the facts about common birth defects and what you can do to prevent them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 33 babies born in the U.S. has some type of birth defect. Every four and a half minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect, adding up to around 120,000 each year.

Wondering what you should know about birth defects? Keep reading to learn the details from our Touro team.

Understanding birth defects

Birth defects are health issues or abnormalities present in a child before birth. These defects may be diagnosed during pregnancy, at birth or at some time after a baby is born.

Most birth defects occur during the first three months of pregnancy, known as the first trimester. It’s during this time that a baby’s organs form and a health problem can emerge.

Some birth defects have genetic causes, passing from parent to child, while others are related to the absence of certain chromosomes or extra chromosomes. In these cases, birth defects are not preventable. Other birth defects may be related to factors you can control, such as medications, alcohol use or environmental factors.

Birth defects vary in severity, and some may not require any treatment. Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. Other common birth defects include cleft lip and cleft palate, hearing loss, microcephaly—limited brain development, and neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

When and how common birth defects are detected

During pregnancy, a woman may undergo multiple screenings designed to detect birth defects. First trimester screenings include a maternal blood screen looking for abnormal protein levels and an ultrasound, which can detect chromosomal disorders and congenital heart defects.

During the second semester, a mother may undergo additional screenings, including a maternal serum screen, a fetal echocardiogram and an anomaly ultrasound.

The maternal serum screen can identify whether the mother is at an increased risk of having a baby with certain birth defects including Down syndrome. The fetal echocardiogram can be used to detect congenital heart defects, while the anomaly ultrasound, which checks the size and development of the baby between weeks 18 and 20, may detect conditions such as spina bifida.

If a screening test shows a potential abnormality, a diagnostic test may be ordered. For example, if a maternal serum screen indicates a woman has a higher risk of having a child with chromosomal abnormalities, an amniocentesis test can be performed. Down syndrome, which is an extra copy of chromosome 21, is one of the birth defects diagnosed in this way.

In some cases, a birth defect may not be diagnosed until birth or later in life, such as when developmental milestones are missed.

The causes of birth defects and how to prevent them

While many birth defects are not preventable, you can take steps to increase the chances of having a healthy baby. Work to prevent birth defects by:

  • Avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals, pesticides and other environmental substances
  • Beginning prenatal checkups as soon as you know you’re pregnant
  • Doing your best to practice good hygiene and other habits to prevent infection
  • Getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, ideally starting before getting pregnant
  • Getting vaccinations as recommended by your OB/GYN or another provider
  • Not drinking alcohol, smoking or using drugs during pregnancy
  • Talking with your OB/GYN about any medications you’re taking (including supplements)
  • Working with your providers to manage any chronic health conditions you have, including diabetes and high blood pressure

There is no foolproof method for preventing birth defects, but taking the best possible care of yourself is a step in the right direction.

Ready to welcome a new member of the family? Learn more about how the Touro Family Birthing Center partners with you to welcome them home!