Saturday, December 20, 2008

Introduction to Preventing Birth Defects

The topic of birth defects is one that puts fear into the hearts of many expectant parents. The desire for a healthy baby takes precedence to the desire for a boy or a girl, or mom’s eyes, or dad’s smile. But many potential parents do not know that they can take an active roll in preventing certain defects such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, spinal bifida, neural tube defects as well as others.

Currently in the United States approximately 150,000 babies each year are born with at least one serious birth defect. That is around 4% of live births. Birth defects, especially severe ones, usually cannot be fully cured and thus can require lifelong medical treatment.

Various public health organizations are doing what they can to raise awareness of preventable birth defects. These organizations include The March of Dimes, and the CDC. While these efforts have been largely successful, there are still many women who need to be educated and informed about preventing birth defects in their unborn children

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a Birth Defect?

A birth defect is when there is a problem with the baby growing in the mother’s body. Birth defects can affect how the body works and looks. They can be very minor or so serious the baby will need surgery or potentially die.

When during pregnancy do birth defects happen?

Most birth defects happen within the first 3 months of pregnancy, some even before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Most of the baby’s organs are developing during those first 3 months, so prevention is absolutely critical, even if you are just trying to get pregnant. During the last 6 months of pregnancy many of the body’s tissues and organs are continuing to grow so they can still be affected by many substances.

What are the chances that my baby will be born with a birth defect?

3% of babies in the United States are born with birth defects. Some of these cannot be prevented, however some of them can. Pregnant women should ask their doctor what medicines to stay away from while they are pregnant because many prescription and over the counter drugs can increase the risk of a baby being born with a birth defect.

Does alcohol cause birth defects?

In short, YES! Alcohol can cause a variety of birth defects that fall under the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

Does smoking cause birth defects?

Smoking can increase the risk of many birth defects such as cleft palate, cleft lip, limb defects, clubfoot, certain heart defects, gastroschisis, and imperforate anus. Smoking also increases the risk for premature birth, stillborn birth, and baby dying during the first year of life.

Do illegal drugs cause birth defects?

The use of illegal drugs while pregnant increases the risk of having a premature baby. Many drugs, like cocaine, can increase the likelihood of babies having birth defects in the limbs, kidneys, heart, gut, and urinary system.

Can the MMR vaccine cause birth defects?

The Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine is a life vaccine, which means that while the virus in the vaccine is extremely weak it can cause disease, especially if the immune system of the person receiving the vaccine is compromised. For this reason, pregnant women should not have the vaccine unless there is a high risk of her getting one of the three diseases. It should be noted that vaccines that are made with dead viruses are completely safe for pregnant women. If in doubt ask your doctor.

What can I do to have a healthy pregnancy?


  • See your doctor before getting pregnant
  • Get any medical condition (obesity, diabetes, seizures, etc.) under control before getting pregnant
  • Take a vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during pregnancy

Take care of yourself

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Exercise moderately
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Avoid contact with chemicals and other things in the home and at work that may harm an unborn baby
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs
  • Talk with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter drugs

What kind of physician can tell me what caused my baby’s birth defect?

Generally your child’s primary care provider is their pediatrician or your family’s general physician. This doctor should be able to find out what caused the birth defect. Your child’s first exam will include a lot of questions about the history of the pregnancy, and possibly some testing. If your child’s physician cannot discover what the cause is you may be referred to a specialist. Be aware that sometimes the cause of a birth defect is never discovered.

What is the CDC doing to prevent and help find the causes for birth defects?

The CDC is always conducting research to discover causes of birth defects. They have researchers that specialize in certain areas as well as epidemiologists that study all birth defects. The CDC also works with doctors, the media, schools, and other health officials to prevent birth defects through different programs and education.

Questions adapted from Weitz and Luxenberg and MedicineNet

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thoughts on Birth Defects

I chose to do this topic for my blog specifically because I have had experience with children with birth defects. My parents have done foster care and have had many young children with problems in their home. Some of the most memorable were the children with fetal alcohol. These children were clearly not in control of their actions. They were extremely impuslive and did not respond to traditional child rearing methods. They also were dealing with learning and mental disabilities. It is sad to see children in such a condition. Through no fault of their own they are going to have to struggle through life. If their mothers had simply not consumed alcohol while they were pregnant they would not be dealing with these disabilites.

Another foster child we had in our home was a Meth baby. while she does not have a particular birth defect, she suffers from a sleeping disorder as well as ADHD. She has also had to have speech therapy peridoicaly. All of these issues could have been prevented if her mother had not used drugs.

So basically preventing birth defects boils down to sexually active women being responsible. If a women is having sex she needs to be taking folic acid, not consuming alcohol or illegal drugs, only taking over the counter and prespcription drugs thave have been approved by her doctor.

For more information about having a healthy pregnancy please visit Womens Health and the Mayo Clinic

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

1% of all children are born with a disorder that falls under the spectrum of Fetal Alcohol. Fetal Alcohol is caused by a pregnant woman consuming alcohol while she is pregnant. There is a range of disorders that are included in this spectrum. The effects of fetal alcohol can include physical, mental, behavioral, and learning disabilities. The most serious fetal alcohol disorder is called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Children with fetal alcohol syndrome have facial abnormalities, growth deficiencies, and problems with the central nervous system. Because of the problems with the nervous system people with FAS often have problems with memory, learning, attention span, communication, vision, and hearing. There is no cure for FAS.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) also include fetal alcohol effects (FAE), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD). Children with FAE often have minor behavioral and cognitive problems. ARND often is related to functional and mental problems, while children with ARBD often have problems with their heart, kidneys, bones, and/or hearing.

Children with FASD typically have some or all of the following characteristics:

  • · Low birth weight
  • · Facial abnormalities i.e. small eye openings
  • · Poor coordination
  • · Hyper behavior
  • · Speech and language delays
  • · Learning disabilities
  • · Mental retardation
  • · Sleep and sucking disturbances in infancy
  • · Poor judgment and reasoning skills

Interesting Statistics

  • · 40,000 newborns are born with FASDs each year
  • · FAS costs the nation up to $6 billion each year
  • · FAS can cost on individual at least $2 million throughout their lifetime
  • · FASD is the leading known cause of mental retardation in the U.S.
  • · 1 in 9 pregnant women binge drinks in the first 3 months of pregnancy

All of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are completely preventable. There is no safe amount of alcohol for a pregnant woman to drink. Women that are considering becoming pregnant or are sexually active and not using birth control should not consume alcohol.

For more information please visit the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or the FASD Center for Excellence

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


· Deformities of joints, limbs, and fingers

· Mental retardation, and delayed development

· Vision difficulties or hearing problems

· Small head circumference and brain size

· Heart Defects

· Abnormal behavior such as a short attention span, hyperactivity, extreme nervousness, poor impulse control, and anxiety

· Distinctive facial features, including small eyes, an exceptionally thin upper lip, a short, upturned nose, and a smooth skin surface between the nose and upper lip


It is impossible for a doctor to diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome before a baby is born.

However if you have been drinking during pregnancy it is important to tell your doctor so he can watch the baby for symptoms after birth. If the doctor knows you have been drinking he will watch for facial deformities, heart defects, and growth defects. The doctor can also do an IQ test and evaluate language development. Your doctor may also suggest that you have a geneticist test your child to rule out other diseases with similar symptoms.


There is no cure for fetal alcohol syndrome. Supportive treatment for symptoms may be available. It is recommended that parents receive counseling in how to help their child cope.

Dealing With It

· Implement a daily routine that your child can become accustomed to

· Use a reward system to encourage good behavior

· Teach your child everyday living skills

· Create and enforce simple rules and limits

For more information visit the Mayo Clinic website, and eMed TV

Monday, November 10, 2008

Spina Bifida

Neural tube defects are a scary thing. Spina Bifida is probably the most common of all neural tube defects. spina bifida occurs when the in the first weeks of development the spinal column does not close completely, and an area of the spine is left exposed. Often with Spina Bifida there is often nerve damage to the legs that can cause some paralysis. Children with Spina Bifida may also suffer from learning disabilities, bowel and urinary problems and hydrocephaly, or water on the brain.

Sadly there is no cure for Spina Bifida, only supportive treatment. Frequently an individual with spina bifida will undergo surgery to attempt and fix the spine as much as possible, as well as participate in physical therapy and take medication. Most individuals with Spina Bifida will need assistance when walking. While the exact cause of Spina Bifida is unknown, studies have shown that taking folic acid during the first few months of pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of Spina Bifida. However, it is not enough to start taking folic acid as soon as you learn you are pregnant. By the time most women discover they are pregnant, they are far enough along that the baby's neural tube as already formed. Because of this issue women who are at risk of getting pregnant should make sure to take folic acid daily. Folic acid can be found in many multivitamins designed for women.

For more information about Spina Bifida please visit the National Institue of Neuroligial Disorder and Stroke or Medline Plus

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Danger's of Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a small parasite that primarily lives in cats. It can also live in the soil for a year after a cat shed’s it in its feces. The problem with Toxoplasmosis is that if a pregnant woman catches it, it can cause severe damage to her unborn child. While it is rare that severe damage will occur, it is best to do whatever possible to prevent infection. If infected, especially during the first trimester, it is possible that the baby will be born with defects such as blindness, or brain damage.

To avoid infection with Toxoplasmosis it is best to avoid cat’s all together. But, if you already have a cat, stay away from the litter box! Also avoid gardening or being near a sandbox, as cats use these area’s as outside litter boxes. It is also helpful to avoid undercooked meets, as the animal may have been infected.

For more information on Toxoplasmosis please visit or Wikipedia