Unfortunately, to many parents, having a baby with a birth defect sounds like a life sentence that they did not deserve. While there is a certain stigma attached to children born with such defects, they are far more common than one may think. Moreover, while the specific causes are not yet well understood, certain steps can be taken by soon-to-be parents to increase the chances of a healthy child.
We will write a custom Essay on Birth Defects’ Common Causes specifically for you
301 certified writers online
Birth defects are “structural changes” that can affect any body part of a newborn, impacting its appearance or functionality, or both (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention par. 3). The child’s health state and life depend not only on what body part is affected but also on how severely it is affected, as birth defects can range from mild to serious. Contrary to popular opinion, they are quite common. Globally, about six percent of all children (approximately eight million people) are born with some kind of a serious birth defect (Lobo and Zhaurova 1). In the United States, that is approximately 120,000 infants, or one in every thirty-three babies, affected each year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention par. 2). Moreover, currently, birth defects account for about one-fifth of all newborn deaths, which makes them the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States (Marusinec par. 2).
It is highly difficult to diagnose and prevent birth defects since their cause is not known in as many as half of all cases (Lobo and Zhaurova 1). Typically, they are divided into two main subgroups: genetic causes and prenatal factors (meaning those that occur during the pregnancy). The genetic causes result from chromosomal abnormalities or single-gene defects (Lobo and Zhaurova 1). Simply put, chromosomal abnormalities develop at the time of conception.
They usually result in the death of the embryo or the baby soon after its birth. Otherwise, they cause the Down syndrome. Single-gene defects, on the other hand, are inherited from the baby’s parents, and it is typically easier to predict them. Interestingly, some defects are especially present in specific racial and ethnic groups. Yet even more frequently, birth defects are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors (Marusinec par. 3).
The majority of medical specialists assign special importance to the infants’ prenatal environment. Certain behaviors and factors are a likely predictor of a birth defect. For instance, excessive alcohol drinking by a pregnant woman is very likely to cause the fetal alcohol syndrome affecting the baby’s major organs, appearance, and mental development (Lobo and Zhaurova 1). The use of other harmful substances like drugs and cigarettes can also affect the infant’s development and worsen any pre-existing genetic conditions (Marusinec par. 6). Other common risk factors include certain untreated medical conditions, especially sexually transmitted diseases, use of heavy medications, and older age of the mother (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention par. 7). While there is no straightforward causal relationship between these factors and birth defects, it is highly important that parents seek medical advice on the elimination of these and any other risk factors.
Understanding what causes birth defects is important for two reasons. Firstly, anyone who wants to become a parent one day can make the necessary lifestyle changes to eliminate the risk factors that may affect the health of their children. Secondly, since the causes are so poorly understood, further research into them should be supported to find solutions for their prevention or treatment.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. n.d. Facts about Birth Defects. n.d. Web.
Lobo, Ingrid and Kira Zhaurova. “Birth Defects: Causes and Statistics.” Nature Education 1.1 (2008): 18. Print.
Marusinec, Laura E. 2015. Birth Defects. 2015. Web.