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Birth Defects: Causes, Types, and Prevention

Birth Defects

January is designated as National Birth Defect Awareness Month. Every year, nearly 120,000 babies are born with a congenital disability. This month is dedicated to learning how to prevent birth defects before and during pregnancy and that children born with one can still maintain a full life.

What is a Birth Defect?

Birth defects can be defined as an abnormality to a newborn baby’s body, whether internally, externally, or a chemical imbalance. Each year, approximately 3% of babies in the United States are born with a birth defect.

Common Types of Birth Defects

While many types of congenital disabilities can be found in newborn babies, the most common include:

  • Heart Defects
    • Structural inconsistencies that are located within a newborn’s heart. Heart defects can be minor and not require treatment, while others may be more serious and require surgery.
  • Spina Bifida
    • Known as a neural tube defect, Spina Bifida is a condition that impacts a newborn’s spine.
  • Muscular Dystrophies
    • Muscular diseases at birth include weak muscles, degeneration, fixed joints, and potential motor milestone delays.
  • Down Syndrome
    • A baby born with Down Syndrome has an extra chromosome 21. This impacts how the baby develops during and after pregnancy creating potential physical and mental challenges.

Causes of Birth Defects

Many congenital disabilities form within the first 3 months of pregnancy. There are different causes as to why a baby may be born with a birth defect, including:

  • Medications/Chemicals
  • Genetics
  • Smoking or Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy
  • Contracting an Infection
  • Age

 Prevention of Birth Defects

While congenital disabilities may be unavoidable, some steps can be taken to prevent them.

  • Follow Proper Prenatal Care
  • Avoid Harmful Substances
  • Maintain Open Communication with a Doctor
  • Be Aware of Past and Current Health Conditions
  • Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle


Learn more about National Birth Defect Awareness Month.