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Birth Defects

Identifying Birth Defects

In the US, 1 in every 33 babies born each year are affected by birth defects. These defects can be identified before, at or after birth. The majority of defects are found within the first year of a baby’s life. Birth defects like hearing loss or heart defects are more difficult to identify than physical defects.



Although birth defects can happen at any stage of pregnancy, most occur in the first three months. The main cause for some birth defects has been identified; however, we do not know what causes all birth defects. It could be a combination of factors including genetics, behaviors and environmental causes. The following have been identified as birth defect risks:


·  Smoking

·  Drinking alcohol

·  Taking illegal drugs

·  Having medical conditions, like obesity or uncontrolled diabetes

·  Taking medications, like isotretinoin

·  Having someone in your family with a birth defect

·  Being pregnant after the age of 34


Having one of these birth defect risks does not mean that your child will be affected by a birth defect and this is not an all-inclusive birth defect risk list. Speak with your healthcare provider to understand how you can lower your child’s risk of birth defects.


Not all birth defects can be prevented, but it is important to take precautions to avoid them if possible.


  1. It is important to speak with your healthcare provider as soon as you plan to be or become pregnant. Also, keep all prenatal care appointments throughout the pregnancy. In addition to keeping your appointments, talk with a healthcare provider about taking 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is a B vitamin and has been shown to help prevent major birth defects on the developing brain and spine if taken at least one month before pregnancy. Other important topics include your prescriptions and vaccinations.


  1. Avoid harmful substances like smoking, drugs and alcohol. Read  How Substances Affect Pregnancy for more information regarding harmful substances.


  1. Choose a healthy lifestyle by keeping diabetes and weight under control. Women suffering from diabetes while pregnant are at risk and so is the fetus. Healthcare before and during pregnancy is important to keep both the mother and baby safe. Likewise, it is important to maintain a healthy weight. Women suffering from obesity are more likely to have a child with birth defects.

Living with a Birth Defect

Every 4.5 minutes, a baby is born in the US with a birth defect. These babies often need special treatment to survive developmentally. Early intervention is important to improving the outcomes for these babies. If your child has a birth defect, speak with his or her doctor about local resources or treatment.