What Are Birth Defects? Causes, Types and Ways to Prevent Them
Birth defects are abnormalities of structure and function in the baby that are present at birth. These abnormalities can result in a change of shape or function of one or more body parts and the resulting developmental or physical disability may need surgical or medical attention. The defects result in problems in the overall health of the baby and can range from minor to serious. Even though some of them can be treated and cured others will result in the eventual death of the baby in its first year of life.
There are many different causes of birth defects and they include genetic problems, chromosomal problems and environmental factors. Genetic problems occur when part of a gene is absent or when a gene does not work the way it is suppose to. Chromosome problems occur when a chromosome is absent or there is an extra chromosome present. Defects from environmental factors occur as a result of things that the woman is exposed to during the pregnancy such as alcohol, drugs and diseases like rubella or German measles.
There are two types of birth defects structural and developmental. When the problem affects the body parts it is known as a structural defect and examples include cleft lip, heart defect and abnormalities such as a club foot. Additional problems involve growth and development of the spinal cord and brain and defects of the neural tube such as spina bifida.
Developmental birth defects occur when a body part or system does not work as it should and the result is one of the following problems. Problems of the brain or nervous system result in Down Syndrome, Autism, Fragile X syndrome to name a few and they involve learning problems, mental retardation, speech or language problems, convulsions, movement issues and behavioral problems.
Sensory problems include visual problems from cataracts all the way to blindness as well as mild hearing loss to deafness. Metabolic disorders involve a chemical pathway or a body process and result in the inability of the body to expel harmful chemicals or waste products. Examples of these disorders include hypothyroidism and phenylketouria.
Finally degenerative disorders are problems that are not clearly seen at birth but cause the progressive degeneration of the health of the baby. Examples include Rett syndrome, muscular dystrophy and lysosomal disorder.
Sometimes the defects can be a combination of problems affecting many processes and parts of the body which result in both structural and functional disability.
Every expectant mother hopes for a healthy baby but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists report that 3 out of every 100 babies born in the US have some kind of birth defect and these figures increase in developing countries. Prenatal care and premarital genetic mapping to a large extent prevent this outcome but sometimes it is impossible to totally prevent every single defect since some result from unknown factors which are beyond our control. So good prenatal care is always the best option to beat the odds and the result is a 97% chance that you will be blessed with a healthy baby.