Birth defects are the leading cause of death for newborns in the U.S., killing one in every five infants, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. As part of the response, January was established as National Birth Defects Prevention Month, to raise awareness about the severity of birth defects, and what steps parents can take to prevent them.
Are Birth Defects Common?
The CDC estimates that 120,000 babies — one in every 33 — are born in the U.S. with a birth defect each year. Defects range from malformations of the head, as with Anencephaly and Spina bifida, to defects of the heart, face, stomach and intestines, as well as muscles and bones. There are also defects caused by extra chromosomes, which lead to conditions such as Down Syndrome.
Birth defects vary in severity, and the effect to a baby’s health depends on the type of defect they suffer. Some are visible right after the baby’s birth, such as a cleft palate, while others are internal defects that take time to identify, such as congenital heart conditions.
Whatever the birth defect, treatment has proven quite costly for families and taxpayers who share the cost. It has been estimated by the CDC that birth defects result in $2.6 billion spent on hospital bills annually. This says nothing of the emotional and physical toll having a child with a birth defect can take on the newborn's parents, whose lives will be forever changed.
What Causes Birth Defects?
Typically, birth defects develop within the first three months of pregnancy, when the baby’s organs are still forming. However, a defect can potentially develop at anytime during the pregnancy, according to the CDC.
Some birth defects, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, have very clear causes. In other cases, babies are healthy during development and their birth defect is caused by a doctor’s negligence during delivery.
Most defects are more puzzling, though, and doctors have yet to identify their causes. It is thought that genetics play a role, as do the parents’ behaviors and things in the surrounding environment, but little is known for sure, the CDC says.
Still, what little is known provides essential information for how expecting parents should act during pregnancy. Following just a few simple rules could be the difference between a healthy baby, and the challenges of caring for a newborn with a birth defect.
Can Birth Defects Be Prevented?
Even though it is unclear why many birth defects occur, doctors still recommend avoiding some behaviors and embracing others to ensure a healthy baby. The following are some tips for those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, that can help prevent a birth defect.
Some of the most common birth defects can occur very early in a pregnancy — while the organs are still developing — in the form of a neural tube defect. This can affect the development of crucial organs like the brain, spine, and spinal cord. By planning ahead, and placing a strong emphasis on prenatal care, neural tube defects can be avoided, increasing the likelihood of birthing a healthy baby.
To prevent such defects, it is recommended that women get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, according to the CDC. Folic Acid is a B vitamin, and building it up during pregnancy can go a long way to preventing birth defects. There are certain foods fortified with folic acid, as well as supplements women can take to increase their folic acid intake.
Avoid Potentially Dangerous Substances
As mentioned before, there are known causes for certain birth defects. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of them, and it can be prevented if a woman does not drink during her pregnancy. People may think certain types of alcohol in limited amounts are ok, but that is never the case, the CDC says. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and a variety of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities, according to the CDC.
Similarly, smoking and recreational drugs should be avoided by women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant. The CDC warns that smoking during pregnancy carries with it the risk of a preterm birth, certain birth defects such as a cleft lip or palate, and infant death. Even just being around tobacco smoke can cause complications during pregnancy.
Make Regular Doctor Visits
If a woman is considering getting pregnant, the CDC recommends going to the doctor early and often. Prenatal care should begin as soon as a woman thinks she is pregnant. Women should also make frequent visits to the doctor during pregnancy to properly monitor the fetus’s development.
While at the doctor, aside from getting normal pregnancy tests done, women should speak about any medications they are taking. Some medications have been connected to birth defects, and should be avoided during pregnancy. Before stopping any medications, however, a doctor should be consulted.
What If My Child’s Birth Defect Was Caused By Someone Else’s Negligence?
In some cases, parents do everything right to guarantee their child is born healthy, and yet, the child still suffers a birth defect. While this could be the result of genetics, sometimes it is the result of a doctor’s negligence.
If you suspect your child’s birth defect was the result of your physician's negligence, you may have legal options to hold them responsible. Our birth defect lawyers have experience handling a variety of birth defect cases, and can determine whether you have a valid birth injury claim.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation case evaluation to learn more about how exactly one of our birth injury lawyers may be able to help.