A birth defect is a very serious condition. It means that at least one part of the body does not form in the baby in the way it should be formed. Few people know that birth defects are quite common and actually affect 1 in every 33 babies in this country alone. It is very important that women learn about the things that can help them avoid birth defects in their unborn children.

Birth Defects Are Surprisingly Common

As stated, one in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect in this country, which equates to one every 4 and a half minutes, or 120,000 babies per year.

“There are more than 4,000 different kinds of birth defects, ranging from minor ones that need no treatment to serious ones that cause disabilities or require medical or surgical treatment. According to the March of Dimes, 1 out of every 33 babies born each year in the United States has a birth defect.”

A birth defect can affect any part of a baby’s body, from the outside to the inside. It may affect how the body works or how it looks, or both. Additionally, it can be severe or it can be mild. How a child’s quality of life is affected by the defect depends on what part of the body or organ is affected, and to what degree. Some people do not see a reduction in their lifespan compared to non-affected people, while others have no chance of life.

How to Identify Birth Defects

It is possible for certain birth defects to be found before birth, while others aren’t seen until the first few years of life. Some are visible with the naked eye, while others require specialist tools in order to be identified.

“A screening test is a procedure or test that is done to see if a woman or her baby might have certain problems. A screening test does not provide a specific diagnosis—that requires a diagnostic test.”

How to Prevent Birth Defects

Some, but not all birth defects, are preventable. However, there are a number of things every woman should do in order to decrease the chances of having a baby with a birth defect. This is why it is very important to seek excellent prenatal care.

It is also very important for women to be aware of the potential dangers of certain drugs. While most women know that they shouldn’t smoke, drink alcohol or do recreational drugs while pregnant, few are aware of the numerous teratogens that exists. Teratogens are prescription medications that can cause a baby to be born with birth defects.

Causes of Birth Defects

A birth defect, as stated previously, can develop at any time during pregnancy. However, they are most common in the first trimester, during the formation of the organs. This is the most important stage of development. However, organs continue to develop during the other two trimesters, which means birth defects can still occur at that point.

There are a number of factors that increase the likelihood of a baby developing a birth defect. Drinking alcohol, smoking and taking street drugs are clear risk factors. Additionally, having a certain medical condition, such as diabetes or being obese, can increase the chances. Being an older mother is also a risk factor. A number of prescription drugs are also known to increase the risk of birth defects. Drugs that are known to be dangerous receive a black box warning.

“The agency can require a pharmaceutical company to include a bold warning on the packaging and the patient instruction sheet if serious or life-threatening risks are associated with the drug. Black-box warnings take their name from the black border around the information and are the FDA’s most stringent warning a drug can carry before it is pulled from the shelves.”

Unfortunately, a black box warning can only be put in place after it has been identified that a danger exists. This means that some babies must have been born already with birth defects and physicians must have started to link this to a certain type of medication in order for the CDC to take note. One example of this is Zofran, which was actually prescribed specifically to pregnant women to help them with morning sickness.

Pregnant women, or women considering pregnancy, are also recommended to keep monitoring FDA press announcements, which is how they release more information on new drugs and their potential side effects.

“New data suggest that the drug Topamax (topiramate) and its generic versions increase the risk for the birth defects cleft lip and cleft palate in babies born to women who use the medication during pregnancy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today.”

At the same time, women usually trust their physicians if they are prescribed medication. Unfortunately, it is this very trust in people with authority, which doctors are, that has lead to a number of completely preventable birth defects. Unfortunately, many physicians do not know the ins and outs of every drug they prescribe, simply because they have to deal with so many drugs. Additionally, there are suggestions that drug manufacturers purposefully withhold information about drug side effects, which is what is believed to have happened with Zoloft. In fact, it is for this reason that GlaxoSmithKline is now facing numerous law suits, include mass action law suits, brought against them by people who have had babies with serious birth defects.