A birth defect is something abnormal about your newborn baby’s body. 

It can be one of the following:

  • Visibly obvious, like a missing arm or a birthmark.
  • Internal (inside the body), like a kidney that hasn’t formed right or a ventricular septal defect (a hole between the lower chambers of your baby’s heart).
  • A chemical imbalance, like phenylketonuria (a defect in a chemical reaction that results in developmental delay).

Your baby can be born with one birth defect such as a cleft lip (a gap in their upper lip) or multiple birth defects such as a cleft lip and cleft palate (a hole in the roof of their mouth) together, or even a cleft lip and cleft palate with defects of the brain, heart and kidneys.

Birth defects are common. Between 2% and 3% of infants have one or more defects at birth. That number increases to 5% by age one (not all defects are discovered directly after your child’s birth)

Experts don’t know the exact cause of most birth defects, but there are some identifiable causes:

  • Genetic or hereditary factors.
  • Infection during pregnancy.
  • Drug exposure during pregnancy.

Environmental factors can increase the risk of miscarriage, birth defects, or they might have no effect on your baby at all, depending on at what point during the pregnancy the exposure occurs.

Diabetes and obesity can possibly increase your child’s risk of birth defects. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you do your best to manage these conditions before you get pregnant

Alcohol is the most commonly used drug that causes birth defects. Foetal alcohol syndrome is a term used to describe the typical birth defects caused by the mother’s alcohol use:

  • Learning disabilities.
  • Developmental delay.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Abnormalities of facial features

Can birth defects be prevented? How?

Most birth defects cannot be prevented. There are certain important steps to promote a healthy pregnancy, however. 

These tips include:

  • See your healthcare provider consistently.
  • If you are trying to conceive, or if you are sexually active and not using contraception, take a prenatal vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid.
  • Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you think you’re pregnant.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about any medications and supplements you’re taking.
  • Avoid marijuana and illegal drugs.