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The Most Common Birth Defects Every Future Parent Needs to Know

The Most Common Birth Defects Every Future Parent Needs to Know
Posted: Dec 29 2017

When you’re expecting a child, there’s a lot to get in order. You’re probably wondering what the baby’s room will look like and how you’ll need to adjust your finances to buy an endless supply of diapers. And your diet, fitness regimen, and general lifestyle have also probably seen some changes to ensure a smooth transition into parenthood. Even still, things don’t always go according to plan — and birth defects can certainly be a worrisome reality for a lot of new parents.

Believe it or not, birth defects are actually quite common. The Physicians Committee says there are about 150,000 babies born each year with defects, and 3% of babies in the U.S. are born with serious ones. But we’re not here to scare you — thanks to modern medicine, many children born with defects lead normal, healthy lives. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be aware. Here are the most common you should know.

1. Undeveloped limbs

There are plenty of defects having to do with limb development, but there’s also the possibility these appendages won’t develop at all. This is known as limb reduction, the CDC reports. And it’s actually more common than you think — every year 1,500 babies in the U.S. are born with limb reduction in their upper body and 750 are born with it in their lower body. This can be a really difficult defect to treat, as it may involve a life of prosthetics or surgeries.

Like so many other birth defects, the cause isn’t totally known for this one. Certain medications and exposure to chemicals or viruses can increase your risk, though.

2. Spina bifida

This birth defect starts in the baby’s spine, and may lead to long-lasting problems, particularly in the legs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains spina bifida occurs when the structure in the fetus that eventually forms the brain and spinal cord doesn’t close all the way. This can ultimately result in nerve damage as well as physical and intellectual disabilities.

It’s not all bad, though — there are ways to reduce the risk of this defect occurring. Taking folic acid can really help the development of the baby. And since spina bifida occurs within the first couple weeks of pregnancy, taking care of your body early on is super important.

3. Cleft lip

This defect might look alarming, but it can typically be corrected shortly after birth. Essentially, a cleft lip is when the baby’s born with an opening at the lip and the same thing can happen on the roof of the mouth. The Cleft Palate Foundation explains doctors see this defect quite a lot — nearly 7,000 children a year in the U.S. are born with one of these two abnormalities. Doctors can typically repair the defect, and your baby is likely to live a totally normal life going forward.

4. Down syndrome

You’ve definitely heard of this defect, as one in every 700 babies in the U.S. is born with it. The National Down Syndrome Society explains Down syndrome occurs when there’s an extra copy of chromosome 21 (there are typically 23 pairs of chromosomes to a cell), thus resulting in developmental delays. There are also physical traits associated with this defect, like low muscle tone, a small stature, and eyes that slant slightly upward.

There’s no cure for Down syndrome, but as medical professionals begin to understand the condition more and more, those who are born with it are finding plenty of opportunities to engage in community organizations, the work force, and recreational fun. The life span of children born with Down has also increased — up to 80%  can expect to live as long as 60 years old.

5. Heart defects

Though it might seem strange, it’s relatively common for a newborn to have heart problems. The American Heart Association reports eight out of every 1,000 babies are born with some kind of heart disorder, including issues with the heart rhythm or the actual structure of the organ. As far as what causes them, genetics, and medications or infections during pregnancy can be risk factors. For most parents, though, the cause is typically unknown. Fortunately, most cases are mild enough that the child can live well into adulthood without any issues

6. Clubfoot

For a parent, birth abnormalities can be extremely worrying — but you shouldn’t stress too much if your baby has clubfoot. This defect causes the baby’s feet to be misshaped, the Mayo Clinic explains. Typically, doctors can treat this defect without surgery in the early months of life. If it goes untreated, bigger problems can develop down the road, like arthritis or issues walking normally — and this can result in some self-esteem issues, too. Risk factors include family history, as well as infections and recreational drug use during pregnancy.

7. Hearing loss

This defect isn’t as common as the rest, but under certain circumstances, you might give birth to a child with congenital hearing loss. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association explains hearing loss can occur at birth if the mother has an infection such as the herpes simplex virus or rubella during pregnancy. A low birth weight, premature birth, and maternal diabetes can also increase the chances of this occurring. And of course, genetics play a role — 50% of all hearing loss cases are genetic. And while the defect usually crop ups at birth, it can also develop later in life.

MedlinePlus explains hearing loss in babies should be treated as early as 6 months of age. Some types can’t be fixed, which means speech therapy and sign language can be introduced.

8. PKU

This birth defect, while rare, can be severe enough that babies in the U.S. are screened for it shortly after birth, Healthline says. PKU occurs when a defective gene causes a buildup of an amino acid known as phenylalanine, which can cause problems down the road. The scariest part is some infants who have this defect won’t display symptoms until months after birth, potentially leading to irreversible brain damage and behavioral problems. If your baby does have PKU (which will only happen if both parents carry the defective gene), it can be successfully managed through diet and medication, so it’s not all bad.

9. Fragile X syndrome

Never heard of fragile X? It’s actually the most common genetic cause of autism, says March of Dimes. This syndrome occurs when the baby’s body can’t produce enough of a protein that’s used to help the brain fully develop. And it’s surprisingly common — about 1 in every 4,000 boys and 1 in 8,000 girls in the U.S. are born with Fragile X. If you have a family history of autism or developmental delays, you might be at a higher risk of passing fragile X syndrome to your baby. While there’s no cure, certain medications and treatments can help the child adjust as they get older.

10. Cerebral palsy

This condition also has to do with brain development. Cerebral palsy occurs when the baby sustains a brain injury, and this usually happens as the brain is developing in the womb, says CerebralPalsy.org. There’s also the possibility of this happening shortly after birth, however. Each case of cerebral palsy is different, but generally, the damage can cause the child to have issues with their motor skills, muscle tone, and reflexes.

Knowing your child has cerebral palsy can be tough to hear, as there isn’t a cure. But treatments and therapies can be really helpful after your doctor has determined what area of the brain was damaged. And you aren’t alone in this — cerebral palsy is the most common disability among children.

11. Underdeveloped brain and skull

This birth defect isn’t as prevalent as some others, but the CDC reports there are still over 1,200 pregnancies affected by this one in the U.S. each year. When this defect occurs, parts of the baby’s brain and skull do not fully develop, particularly in the front of the head. And this usually leads to death shortly after birth.

So, why does this happen? A change in the baby’s genes while they’re in the womb may be one of the reasons, but the cause is still largely unknown. CDC researchers found low folic acid levels before pregnancy may contribute, too, so make sure you’re getting plenty of leafy greens and citrus in your diet.

12. Turner syndrome

This defect can either have very severe consequences or none at all. Verywell explains Turner syndrome solely affects girls, and it occurs when they’re born with only one complete X chromosome. In most cases, babies with the condition are stillborn or miscarried, though surviving females often lead normal lives. If you make it past the first trimester without miscarrying, you’re probably in the clear. And babies who survive can have mild health problems, but nothing serious or life-threatening.

13. Gastroschisis

This defect requires immediate surgery as soon as the baby is born and can result in lasting digestive issues. Essentially, gastroschisis is when the baby’s intestines are outside of the body due to a hole near the belly button, the CDC explains. Doctors do their best to take care of this right away, but because the intestines were not protected internally, they can be irritated and give the child problems absorbing nutrients later on.

A change in the baby’s genes can cause gastroschisis, but otherwise, the cause is largely unknown. Only about 1,800 babies are born with this defect each year in the U.S., but there’s evidence it may be on the rise.

14. Dysplasia of the hip

Hip problems don’t just happen to the elderly — in fact, they can start before you’re even born. Dysplasia of the hip occurs when the hip socket is too shallow to support the joint, thus causing displacement, explains the Stanford Children’s Hospital. And this is surprisingly common — one out of every 1,000 births will have this condition.

Your child is more likely to have dysplasia of the hip if the problem runs in the family, or if you have a genetic history of having really flexible ligaments. Otherwise, other factors like the baby’s positioning in the uterus or how they responded to hormones during pregnancy can also cause this issue. The good news is it can typically be corrected without surgery.

Preventing birth defects

Birth defects range greatly, and in many cases, you really can’t beat genetics. But that doesn’t mean there are certain precautions you can’t take to ensure you give birth to a healthy child. The CDC recommends definitely staying away from smoking or drinking alcohol. Fetal alcohol syndrome might be the issue you most commonly associate with pregnancy and drinking, but it could also possibly be the cause of other defects. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Also, if you have certain medical conditions such as diabetes during your pregnancy, this may lead to some defects. And always tell your doctor if you’re on certain medications. Prescription drugs, such as Accutane, are known for causing birth defects, thus you should never carry a child if you’re taking it. And if you’re older than 34 years old at the time of your pregnancy, this also may raise your risk.


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