8 of the Most Common Birth Defects Explained

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Although there are many different types of birth defects, some are rare, while others are way more prevalent. Here are some of the most common ones you should be aware of — knowing what they are and what can be done about them should make you feel more empowered.

1. Cleft Lip or Palate

Description: These birth defects happen when something causes the malformation of the lips or mouth of a fetus. What happens with a cleft lip is the tissue doesn’t completely meet up and it leaves an unsightly gap in the front. With a cleft palate, it’s the same principle, but the palate located on the roof of the mouth doesn’t fully join together.

Prevalence: Cleft lips affect 4,440 children each year in the U.S. — and some of those cleft lip cases may also involve a cleft palate. The number of children with cleft palate but who don’t suffer from cleft lip is approximately 2,650 each year.

Causes and Prevention: There’s no clear cut answer about what causes cleft palate or lip, although experts believe that genes may be at work some of the time, as well as environmental factors and medications. Things that are believed to up the risk of this birth defect are smoking by the mom when pregnant, diabetes before pregnancy, and epilepsy medicines (source).

Diagnosis: Because of today’s highly sensitive ultrasounds, doctors can often spot cleft lip or palate before babies are born. Obvious cases of cleft palate and lip are apparent as soon as the baby is born, but other cases of cleft palate aren’t found until later.

Treatments: If your baby has a cleft lip, it should be repaired with surgery before your baby’s first birthday. A cleft palate should be fixed through surgery in the first 18 months of a child’s life. One surgery may not be enough to fix the problem in some cases.

2. Congenital Heart Defects

Description: This defect is a scary one for parents to deal with because obviously the heart is a crucial organ and if the heart isn’t healthy, the outcome can be severe. Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are there at birth and they can impact how your baby’s heart works so it’s important to heed any advice the doctor gives you.

Prevalence: CHDs occur in almost 1 percent of births in the U.S. every year, meaning that about 40,000 babies are born with CHDs annually.

Causes and Prevention: This type of defect occurs when there is an abnormal development of the heart when your baby is a fetus. CHDs are sometimes caused by genetic conditions — experts believe somewhere around 15 percent can be attributed to that reason (source).

Sometimes the reason for the CHD is unknown, but viral illnesses like German measles, certain medications, alcohol, smoking, drugs, and underlying medical conditions can all increase the odds of your baby developing a CHD.

Diagnosis: A CHD will often be able to be detected before birth at a prenatal visit by using noninvasive sound waves. If that doesn’t happen because the ailment isn’t apparent at appointments or if prenatal appointments are skipped, most severe heart defects are apparent soon after a baby is born — they’ll usually reveal themselves with days, weeks, or months.

Treatments: When a CHD is discovered before birth, doctors may be able to use medication to stop any additional damage from being done. If the defect appears to be severe enough and needs immediate intervention, doctors will be able to arrange for further intervention as soon as your baby is born.

3. Down Syndrome

Description: Down syndrome occurs when a baby has an extra copy of chromosome 21. A typical baby should have 46 chromosomes. With Down syndrome, that extra chromosome can create a difference in development in the brain and the body. It alters appearance, leading to a flatter face, a shorter stature, small ears, and a tongue that sticks out of the mouth more.

Prevalence: In the U.S., every year approximately 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome. That amounts to one in 700 babies (source).

Causes and Prevention: Why Down syndrome occurs sometimes, but not others, is a mystery. But one important trigger appears to be an older maternal age at the time of pregnancy. Moms who get pregnant when they are 35 or older have a greater risk of having a child with Down syndrome — and that risk increases for each year they age.


But many younger women also have children with Down’s syndrome so the risk isn’t only created by a mother’s older age.

Diagnosis: To figure out if your child may be born with Down syndrome, your doctor can do a noninvasive screening test (source). That screening test will help decide whether you should undergo a more invasive diagnostic test that looks at amniotic fluid, a sample from the placenta, or blood that is drawn from the umbilical cord.

Treatments: There is nothing the medical world can do to take away your child’s Down syndrome — they will have it for life. But there are medical interventions that will help them make the most of their potential, like physical and occupational therapies.

4. Cerebral Palsy

Description: Cerebral palsy (CP) is a condition that’s caused when the developing brain sustains damage or fails to progress as it normally would. When a child has cerebral palsy, it impacts their movement, as well as their balance and posture. CP may be really severe or it can be mild.

Prevalence: Each year about 10,000 births will result in a diagnosis of CP. Overall, for every 1,000 children in the U.S., about two or three will have CP (source).

Causes and Prevention: Brain damage is the root cause of CP and it can happen during the prenatal period, during the birthing process, or even during the early years of a child’s life as the brain would normally continue to develop.

Most CP, up to 90 percent, is congenital, meaning the damage happened in the womb or during birth.

Diagnosis: Unlike some other birth defects,CP isn’t readily apparent at birth. It can take months before doctors or parents begin to notice signs that point to CP. There’s no definitive test that shows whether a child has CP — there will be monitoring and screening to look for any developmental delays.

Treatments: CP is a lifelong condition, but getting a prompt diagnosis and seeking out treatment can help tremendously. Some of the treatments your child’s doctor might recommend include various therapy options, braces, surgery, and medicines.

5. Clubfoot

Description: When a baby’s tissues between the muscles and bone in their foot and leg aren’t as long as they need to be, the result is clubfoot. In this condition, your baby’s foot looks twisted and it can make it difficult for your child to walk normally. Sometimes it can be in both feet.

Prevalence: Clubfoot affects approximately 1 in 1,000 babies annually.

Causes and Prevention: The cause of clubfoot hasn’t been determined, but genetics are suspected in some of the cases. It can sometimes appear to run in families. But just because you have a history of it in your family doesn’t mean you should be overly concerned about your baby having it too — there’s a good chance it won’t.

Diagnosis: Sometimes clubfoot can be detected in routine ultrasounds during pregnancy. But other times, a doctor won’t spot it until after birth when they are looking over a newborn. Nothing can be done to help your baby about clubfoot until after your baby is born, but if you realize it’s happening before you have your baby, it will give you and your doctor time to plan the best course of action.

Treatments: Clubfoot is a treatable birth defect. It doesn’t require major surgery and in up to 50 percent of cases, it doesn’t require surgery at all (source). Children with clubfoot can benefit greatly from having casts for the first two or three months of their lives.

Following that, some babies also need to wear corrective shoes or braces, sometimes for years.



 6. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Description: Fetal alcohol syndrome is a name given to a wide range of issues that happen because of a mom ingesting alcohol while she’s pregnant. Once that damage is done, it remains a lifelong condition. It can cause a wide variety of issues, from growth to brain damage.

Prevalence: It can be hard to know just how prevalent fetal alcohol syndrome really is. But experts believe fetal alcohol syndrome affects up to 1.5 live births out of every 1,000.

Causes and Prevention: Alcohol is the sole cause of this condition. While you’re pregnant, you should stay away from alcohol entirely.

Doctors don’t know for certain how much alcohol is the tipping point to begin wreaking havoc on your developing baby, so abstinence is the best course. It can be tricky to avoid alcohol in early pregnancy before you even know you’re pregnant so the best plan is to avoid all alcohol if you’re actively trying to get pregnant.

Diagnosis: There isn’t one magic test that can diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome. It takes meeting a criteria of diagnostic guidelines to end up with a diagnosis.

It includes abnormal features of the face, including a thin upper lip and wide set eyes, and growth and central nervous system issues (source).

Treatments: Because fetal alcohol syndrome can cause a big range of physical defects, brain and nervous system problems, and social and behavioral issues, treatments can vary. While the damage is irreversible, your child may need various therapies to help stay on track.

7. Spina Bifida

Description: This birth defect happens when formation of the spinal cord and spine don’t develop normally. When a child has spina bifida, the neural tube does not form correctly.

The resulting birth defect can be severe or mild. In the mildest cases, doctors may not even know a child has spina bifida unless they happen to do an imaging test for another reason that shows the condition.

Prevalence: Every year in the U.S., spina bifida is present in about 1,500 births. The highest rates of spina bifida are experienced by Hispanic moms.

Causes and Prevention: The reason some babies end up with spina bifida isn’t clear, but it is believed to be caused by genetics and environmental issues. There are certain risk factors that appear to increase the risk.

Girls have more instances of spina bifida than boys so being a female baby is one risk factor. Not getting enough folic acid during pregnancy is another risk, as is a family history of the condition. Other risk factors include the use of hot tubs, obesity, diabetes, and anti-seizure medications (source).

Diagnosis: To be alerted to any potential spina bifida birth defects, doctors check for it before childbirth by doing a blood test. That blood test isn’t conclusive so just because it’s negative or positive, it doesn’t mean your child absolutely does or doesn’t have spina bifida.

If a blood test leads your doctor to suspect spina bifida during your pregnancy, they’ll use ultrasound and possibly amniocentesis to figure out what is going on. For suspected mild cases after a baby is born, doctors might use ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, or CT scans to help diagnose the condition.

Treatments: If spina bifida is found before birth, surgery is done before the baby is born to do spinal cord repairs. That might help spare your child from some of the damage caused by spina bifida.

Sometimes surgery will be done after birth instead.

Children with spina bifida will need a variety of treatments to help them with complications and the condition. Those treatments and special equipment might include braces, crutches, wheelchairs, medications, and various therapies.

8. Upper and Lower Limb Reduction Defects

Description: Upper and lower limb reduction defects are when a portion of an arm or leg doesn’t form correctly. It can even affect the whole leg or arm instead of just a part of it. This birth defect affects arms more than legs.

Prevalence: Annually, approximately 4 out of 10,000 babies will be born with upper limb reductions. Only about half as many will be born with lower limb reductions.

Causes and Prevention: As with many other birth defects, doctors aren’t completely sure what causes upper and lower limb reduction defects. But they do believe that certain medications can play a part, as can viruses and chemical exposures and even potentially tobacco exposure (source).

Taking multivitamins before conception may help lower the risk for these types of defects. It’s believed this is because of the folic acid in the multivitamin.

Diagnosis: For more severe upper and lower limb reduction defects, doctors are often able to make the diagnosis before birth. For smaller issues, it may be difficult to detect until birth though.

Treatments: Treatment will depend upon how much of the limb is affected, as well as whether it’s an arm or a leg. Children may need surgery for their limbs, especially if they will use a prosthesis.

They also may need physical therapy or occupational therapy.

Find out more about congenital disorder awareness & prevention on momlovesbest.com

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