Birth Defects: The causes and Statistics

Birth defects are disorders that are referred to as congenital disorders.This means that they are conditions that are present at birth.The severity of birth defects range from very minor cosmetic irregularities to severe life-threatening biochemical disorders.Some children are born with multiple birth defects. Over 3,000 known conditions are recognized by T1 dnahe March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.These conditions include chromosome alterations, single gene defects, metabolic defects (also known as defects of body chemistry), blood disorders, physical abnormalities that are present at birth and perinatal injuries that occur directly prior to delivery or during the actual birthing process. The vast majority of birth defects are recognizable at birth; however, some conditions or disorders are not detected for several months or years later. Diagnostic prenatal testing during pregnancy can detect hundreds of birth defects.If there is a family history of genetic birth defects, please let your physician know as there may be additional testing offered to you that is beyond the routine prenatal testing offered.



What Causes Birth Defects?

More than 60% of birth defects have no known cause or are considered to be caused by a combination of genetic, non genetic or environmental factors. Genetic or hereditary factors are that of either chromosomal or single gene defects.Genetic birth defects are the most common of birth defects and are to blame for about 25% of congenital birth defects. Around 4% of birth defects are attributed to maternal disorders.Some of the maternal disorders that may cause birth defects are diabetes, heart disease and drug or alcohol abuse. Between 3 and 5% of birth defects are caused from infections that are passed between the baby and the mother.Infections such as Rubella or toxoplasmosis are of the more common infections passed between mother and child that cause congenital defects. Drugs and medications taken by the mother cause the remaining 1% of birth defects.Unfortunately, of the 1% of defects caused by medications most can be avoided with an understanding of what is and is not safe.Speak to your doctor before taking any medications during pregnancy.Most physicians offer a list of over the counter medications that are considered safe during pregnancy. During your first doctor's visit for prenatal care, it is likely that you will be asked to fill out a lengthy questionnaire.There will be questions regarding medications that you take; both prescription and over the counter medications, medications you've taken in the past, alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and the use of tobacco and recreational drug.It is important that you answer honestly about your use concerning these substances to enable your doctor to access whether your fetus is or is not at risk.Remember, your physician will not use this information for anything other than prenatal care. The same questionnaire or form may also ask you about any exposures that you have had to agents that have been known to cause birth defects.The agents asked about may include lead, methyl mercury and radiation.A complete and detailed medical history; including immunization status, will also be required. In addition, you will be asked to provide information about your family history.Be prepared to answer the same questions regarding family history about your partner, if possible.This is an important tool for your physician that will allow him or her to determine your risk of passing along a hereditary disorder to your child.It is helpful to ask relatives this information prior to your first prenatal appointment. While some questionnaires may not require quite as much information as has been indicated here, most will.If your doctor does not bring up the subject, you should.Make it a point to ask your prenatal healthcare provider whether any concerns you have about family medical history of both you and your partner are relevant to your pregnancy.


How Likely Is My Baby To Be Born With A Birth Defect?

Out of every 100 babies born in the United States about 97 of those children are born healthy and do not require any major medical or surgical intervention at birth.This should be very reassuring statistics as the chances for your baby being born without a birth defect is excellent. According to The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation,

1 out of every 175 babies is born with a congenital heart defect.

1 out of ever 400 babies is born with clubfoot.

1 out of every 700 babies is born with cleft lip and palate.

1 out of every 800 babies is born with Down Syndrome.

1 out of every 2,000 babies is born with spina bifida.

While these numbers sound very scary to a pregnant couple, let's put them into perspective.

The chance that you are carrying twins is one in 100.

The odds of having triplets are around one in 8,000.

When looking at the number of children born with birth defects alongside pregnancies resulting in multiple births; such as twins or triplets, we can see that the number of babies born with a congenital disorder or birth defect is very small.


Medical Geneticists and Genetic Counselors

If prenatal testing indicates a disorder or your doctor feels you are at an increased risk of having a child born with a birth defect, it's important that you and your partner are able to fully understand a diagnoses and clarifying the risks.A medical geneticist or genetic counselor can help you gain a better understanding and answer any questions that you or your partner may have about birth defects. Before finding themselves in a situation of needing the assistance of a medical geneticists or genetic counselor, most people have never even heard the terms before.A medical geneticist is a physician who specializes in genetic disorders.A genetic counselor has completed a master's-level training program in medical genetics and is certified in genetics counseling.Genetics counseling is designed to be provided in a very informative and supportive manner without being judgmental in any way.Genetics counselors also help with the decision making.Both a medical geneticists or genetics counselor are able to help parents understand the consequences of any particular diagnosis, the options available for treatments and whether it is likely that the birth defect will reoccur in future pregnancies. Medical geneticists may assist a doctor in deciding which tests or genetic studies may be required along with exactly what information may be necessary to make informed decisions regarding a pregnancy.