A birth defect is a problem that happens while a baby is developing in the mother’s body. Most birth defects happen during the first 3 months of pregnancy. According to the March of Dimes, about 120,000 babies born each year have congenital normalities. A birth defect may affect how the body looks, works, or both and can range from mild to severe. How an abnormality affects a child’s life depends mostly on which organ or body part is involved and how severe the defect is.
What causes birth defects?
For some birth defects, researchers know the cause, but the exact cause is unknown for others. Researchers think that most are caused by a complex mix of factors, which can include:
- Genetics. One or more genes might have a change or mutation that prevents them from working properly. For example, this happens in Fragile X syndrome. With some defects, a gene or part of the gene might be missing.
- Chromosomal problems. In some cases, a chromosome or part of a chromosome might be missing. This missing chromosome is what happens in Turner syndrome. In other cases, such as with Down Syndrome, the child has an extra chromosome.
- Exposures to medicines, chemicals, or other toxic substances. For example, alcohol misuse can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Infections during pregnancy. For example, infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy can cause a serious brain defect.
- Lack of certain nutrients. Not getting enough folic acid before and during pregnancy is a key factor in causing neural tube defects.
Who is at risk?
Certain factors may increase the chances of having a baby with a congenital disorder, such as:
- Drinking alcohol
- Taking “street” drugs during pregnancy
- Certain medications
- Certain medical conditions, such as obesity or uncontrolled diabetes
- Someone in your family with a birth defect.
- Being an older mother, typically over the age of 34 years
Can they be prevented?
Not all birth defects can be prevented, but there are things you can do before and during pregnancy to increase your chance of having a healthy baby:
- Start prenatal care as soon as you think you might be pregnant and regularly see your healthcare provider during pregnancy.
- Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. If possible, you should start taking it at least one month before you get pregnant.
- Don’t drink alcohol, smoke, or use “street” drugs.
- Talk to your health care provider about any medicines you are taking or thinking about taking, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as dietary or herbal supplements.
- Learn how to prevent infections during pregnancy.
- If you have any medical conditions, try to get them under control before you get pregnant.
Do you have questions about your pregnancy or looking for an OBGYN in Northwest Arkansas? Contact Creekside Center for Women at 479.582.9268.