Birth defects are structural or functional (or a combination of the two) abnormalities which occur at birth and have developed while the baby was inside the uterus. Such defects are associated with different level of physical and/or mental disability. In severe cases of birth defects the baby dies soon after birth.
Birth Defects - Overview
Birth defects develop due to many causes. Many times birth defects occur due to genetic mutations and similar genetic abnormalities. Extra chromosomes or missing parts of chromosome may cause serious problems. Furthermore, there are many environmental factors that can contribute to birth defects. For example, if a pregnant woman has been exposed to some viruses such as rubella or German measles, there is high risk her child will develop some of many birth defects. Similar effects occur in case women consume alcohol during pregnancy.
All births defects are classified into structural birth defects and functional (developmental) birth defects.
Structural birth defects cause changes in structure of certain organs and organ systems. Examples of structural birth defects are cleft lip or palate, heart defects, abnormal limbs (club foot) etc. On the other hand, functional birth defects do not cause any visible structural changes. Instead, they are associated with improper functioning of the affected body parts and developmental disabilities. Nervous system or brain problems, sensory problems, metabolic disorders and degenerative disorders are several examples of functional birth defects.
Prevention of Birth Defects
Unfortunately, many birth defects simply cannot be prevented. However, this does not mean people should give up some measures which can reduce the chance of certain birth defects. Preventive measures can be applied prior and during the very pregnancy.
Before pregnancy women should be properly vaccinated and they are due to check whether they are suffering from some sexually transmitted diseases. If they have some STDs, they should be properly treated. Furthermore, women who are planning to get pregnant may significantly benefit from prenatal vitamins, especially folic acid.
If there is a family history of birth defects, or if a couple has already had a baby suffering from some birth defects, it is of major importance to consult a genetic counselor before the following pregnancy. Such couples must undergo genetic testing and once the woman has conceived, the baby must undergo genetic testing as well.
It is not recommendable to use medications during pregnancy prior consulting a doctor. Some drugs can cause serious birth defects. Furthermore, while being pregnant women should stop smoking and avoid alcohol as well as illicit drugs. Healthy diet as well as proper intake of vitamins is a must. Moderate exercising and proper rest are also beneficial. It is also good to avoid any contact with people with active infections, particularly viral respiratory infections. And finally, with adequate early and regular prenatal care the chance of discovering potential birth defects is higher.