According to the World Health Organization (WHO), birth defects affect an estimated 6% of births worldwide? In India, more than 1.7 million children are born with birth defects every year.
Birth defects are a complex and heartbreaking issue affecting millions of families around the world. These conditions are present at birth and can have a wide range of effects on the health and well-being of the affected child. From physical deformities to developmental delays and chronic medical conditions, it can have a profound impact on the lives of both the child and their family.
Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent and treat these congenital disorders. Prenatal care and screening, genetic testing, and lifestyle changes can all help reduce the risk of birth defects. Early detection and intervention can also improve outcomes for children born with these conditions.
In this blog, we will explore the causes and types of birth defects, as well as the latest research and advancements in prevention and treatment. We will also provide practical advice and resources for families and individuals impacted by birth defects. Our goal is to increase awareness and understanding of this important issue and to help improve the lives of those affected by it.
What are birth defects?
Birth defects are structural or functional abnormalities present at birth that can affect the physical, mental, or intellectual development of a child. These conditions can range from mild to severe and can involve almost any part of the body. Some common birth defects include heart defects, cleft lip or palate, Down syndrome, and neural tube defects.
The causes of birth defects can be genetic or environmental, and sometimes, the exact cause is unknown. Genetic defects occur when there is a change or mutation in a person’s DNA, while environmental factors such as exposure to harmful chemicals or infections during pregnancy can increase the risk of defects.
The impact of birth defects on a child’s life can vary greatly depending on the type and severity of the defect. Some defects may cause little to no disruption in a child’s life, while others can lead to lifelong disabilities and medical issues that require ongoing care and support.
World Birth Defects Day
World Birth Defects Day is observed on March 3rd every year to raise awareness about the causes and prevention of birth defects. The theme for 2023 is ‘Prevent to Protect: Working Together for Healthy Births,’ which highlights the importance of collaboration among healthcare professionals, policymakers, and communities to ensure healthy outcomes for all babies.
Prevention tips to reduce birth defects
There are several measures that can reduce the risk of birth defects. Here are some prevention tips:
Get early and regular prenatal care: Regular prenatal care helps to identify any potential risks or complications that can lead to birth defects. Pregnant women should have regular prenatal visits and follow the recommended schedule of prenatal tests and screenings.
Take folic acid: Folic acid is essential for the development of the neural tube, which is the structure that forms the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Taking 400-800 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine.
Avoid harmful substances: Exposure to certain substances can increase the risk of birth defects. Pregnant women should avoid alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, and limit caffeine intake.
Manage chronic conditions: Chronic conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, and obesity can increase the risk of birth defects. Pregnant women should work with their healthcare provider to manage these conditions and maintain good health.
Protect against infections: Certain infections, such as rubella, cytomegalovirus, and toxoplasmosis, can increase the risk of birth defects. Pregnant women should take precautions to avoid exposure to infections, such as practising good hand hygiene and avoiding contact with sick individuals.
Consider genetic counselling: Couples with a family history of birth defects or genetic conditions may benefit from genetic counselling to assess their risk and make informed decisions about their pregnancy.
The treatment of birth defects varies depending on the type and severity of the defect. Some defects may not require treatment, while others may require surgery or ongoing medical management. For example, a cleft lip or palate may require surgery, while congenital heart defects may require medication or surgery. In some cases, early intervention, such as physical therapy, may be beneficial for improving developmental delays. It’s important for parents to work closely with healthcare professionals to develop an individualized treatment plan for their child. Additionally, genetic counselling may be recommended to understand the risk of having a child with a defect in the future.
Birth defects can have significant physical, emotional, and financial consequences for individuals and families. While not all physical or mental defects can be prevented, there are steps that prospective parents can take to reduce the risks. This includes avoiding exposure to harmful substances such as alcohol and tobacco, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and getting early and regular prenatal care. It is also important to raise awareness about the prevalence of the birth defect and provide support and resources for affected individuals and families. By prioritizing prevention and support, we can work towards improving the health and well-being of future generations.