What are birth defects?

Birth defects are critical conditions that affect the structure of one or more body parts (ex: the brain, legs, etc.) in babies. Birth defects can affect how the body part looks, works, or both. Birth defects can be mild or serious, ultrasounddepending on which body part is defected, and in severe cases, it can determine the life span of a child.

How are birth defects found?

Birth defects can be identified before, during, or after pregnancy. They are normally found within the first year of life. Some birth defects are noticeable, such as cleft lip, while others require testing, such as a heart defect.

What causes birth defects?

There are many different factors that influence birth defects. Some birth defects are preventable, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, while others are not, such as defects that occur while a baby is developing during pregnancy. Most defects occur during the first 3 months of pregnancy, although some may develop later on. Many causes of birth defects are unknown, although a variety of factors including genes, the environment, and behaviors may play part. Some factors that may increase the chance of your baby being born with a birth defect include:

  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs during pregnancy
  • Having certain medical conditions during pregnancy, such as obesity or diabetes
  • Taking certain medications
  • Having a family member with a birth defect
  • Being an older mother

Are birth defects common?

1 in 33 babies in the U.S. will be born with a birth defect. Research is being done to help reduce this number.

How can birth defects be prevented?

Some birth defects cannot be prevented, while others can. There are steps you can take to reduce the likeliness of your child having a birth defect:

  • Receive prenatal care as soon as you know you are pregnant
  • Take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, especially starting a month before pregnancy and during pregnancy
  • Do not drink alcohol, smoke, or use drugs
  • Do not use medications during pregnancy unless approved by your doctor
  • Prevent infections during pregnancy
  • Control medical conditions such as diabetes or obesity before pregnancy

What should I do if my child is born with a birth defect?

People with birth defects may require medical treatment, surgery, and special care. Talk to your child’s doctor to determine the needs of your child. They can help you learn about your child’s disability and how to manage it.

For more information on birth defects, click here.