Irregularities regarding a child’s metabolism, bodily performance, or physical configuration, which are present at the time of birth, are all considered birth defects. Birth defects may cause the child to suffer a range of disabilities which may even lead to death.
Birth defects and birth injuries are two separate occurrences. While certain defects may be evident at birth, a baby may suffer a physical injury that is simply the result of being born. It is estimated that between two and seven babies out of 1,000 will become injured during the birth process.
Birth defects fall into two major categories:
- Brain and nervous system issues including Down’s syndrome and Autism
- Sensory affects including deafness, blindness, and cataracts
- Metabolic disorders such as phenylketonuria and hypothyroidism
- Degenerative disorders such as muscular dystrophy or Angelman syndrome
- Missing or deformed limbs
- Congenital heart defects including missing or ill-formed valves
- Cleft lips and palates
- Neural tube defects such as Spina bifida
- Urinary tract deformations
While birth defects represent more than 20% of infant deaths and contribute substantially to life-long disabilities, the causes of nearly 70% of birth defects are unknown. Some factors that may contribute to birth defects include various occupational hazards, dietary factors, medications, personal habits, and environmental exposures, but many questions remain about the exact nature of their influence.
Typically, leading risk factors of birth defects may be dissected into two major categories:
- Maternal ingestion of certain pharmaceuticals
- Maternal exposure to toxins such as herbicides and pesticides
- Maternal alcohol and tobacco use
- Exposure to chemical compounds such as paint or cleaning solutions
- Exposure to heavy metals such as gold, lead, and mercury
- Infant exposure to maternal infections
- Parents carrying an abnormal gene perhaps causing Tay-Sachs disease or cystic fibrosis