Like most expectant parents, you probably alternate between fantasies about a healthy baby and
worries that your baby will have a health problem. Or perhaps you've been told through
screening that your baby may be born with a birth defect.
Many parents assume that all birth defects are severe or even fatal, but the fact is that many are
treatable, often immediately after birth — and sometimes even before the baby is born.
It's especially important to know the risk factors involved and how to prevent birth defects.
However, it's also important to realize that most babies born with congenital defects are born to two
About Birth Defects
Birth defects are defined as abnormalities of structure, function, or body metabolism that are
present at birth. These abnormalities lead to mental or physical disabilities or are fatal. There are
more than 4,000 different known birth defects, ranging from minor to serious, and although many
can be treated or cured, they're the leading cause of death in the first year of life.
According to the March of Dimes, about 150,000 babies are born with birth defects each year in the
United States. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that 3 out of
every 100 babies born in the United States have some kind of major birth defect.
Birth defects can be caused by genetic, environmental, or unknown factors.
Structural or metabolic defects
are those that result when a specific body part is missing or
formed incorrectly or when there is an inborn problem in body chemistry. The most common type of
major structural defects are
heart defects, which affect 1 in 100 babies in the United States.
Other common structural defects include
spina bifida and hypospadias, a condition in which the
opening of the male urethra (where urine exits from the penis) is in the wrong place.
Metabolic defects affect 1 in 3,500 babies and usually involve a missing or incorrectly formed
enzyme (a protein necessary for processing chemical substances in the body). This type of defect
can be harmful or even fatal, but doesn't usually cause any visible abnormalities in the child.
Metabolic defects include Tay-Sachs disease, a fatal disease that affects the central nervous system,
and phenylketonuria (PKU), which affects the way the body processes protein.
Defects caused by congenital infections
result when a mother gets an infection before or during
the pregnancy. Infections that can cause birth defects include
rubella (German measles),
syphilis, toxoplasmosis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, parvovirus, and,
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