4 Risk Factors for Birth Defects Everyone Should Know

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There’s nothing quite like the joy you experience when you bring a new life into this world. But not every parent gets to experience this joy. Why? Many children are born with birth defects or congenital disorders. 

Almost all couples know that drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes increase the risk of congenital disabilities. But are they the only factors that contribute to birth defects in babies? Certainly, not! 

There are many more risk factors that result in functional or structural abnormalities at birth. In this guide, we’ll discuss a few risk factors of congenital abnormalities that every couple should know. 

#1 Maternal Age

The age at which a woman conceives plays a crucial role in determining the risk of birth defects in her offspring. 

Women who become pregnant at an older age, in particular at or above 35 years, are at an increased risk of giving birth to children with chromosomal disorders. The most common chromosomal abnormality still is Down syndrome. Each year, approximately one in every 700 babies are born with Down syndrome, reveals the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That equals 6,000 babies. 

Advanced maternal age is also linked to an increased incidence of structural abnormalities and problems during pregnancy. 

Several researchers reveal that congenital abnormalities are also common in teenage pregnancy. A 2022 study discovered that teen pregnancies were at an increased risk of having babies with birth defects. Women aged between 25 and 29 were more likely to give birth to children with gastroschisis, neural tube defects, and other abnormalities. 

This suggests that birth defects can occur at any age and are not limited to older women. Therefore, discussing your concerns with your healthcare provider if you’re planning a baby, irrespective of age, is best. 

#2 Exposure to Pollutants

Not many know that the environment prospective parents live in has an impact on their unborn child. If the mother is exposed to pollutants throughout the pregnancy, she will likely give birth to a child with a congenital abnormality. 

A 2022 study published in PLoS One discovered a link between birth defects and environmental pollutants. After surveying pregnant women’s closeness to Appalachian Kentucky’s mountaintop removal mining, it discovered a link between residential proximity to mining and gastrointestinal birth abnormalities. 

Something similar happened with women at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Women exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune gave birth to children with congenital disorders. 

Leaking or spilling of VOCs from underground storage tanks, industries, and waste disposal sites contaminated the water at Camp Lejeune, reveals TorHoerman Law. 

Early research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that children born at Camp Lejeune suffered from childhood cancers and neural tube birth defects. 

Reportedly, 106 babies were diagnosed with childhood hematopoietic cancers. Of all those children, medical reports confirmed the diagnosis of only 52 children. Since the signing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, several veterans have claimed compensation by filing the Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit

Prospective parents should always take into account the environment they reside in when they are trying to conceive. 

#3 Genetics

Many times, genetics are responsible for birth defects in babies. Approximately 20 percent of congenital abnormalities occur due to genes. 

On average, the cells in the human body contain 46 chromosomes, each of which carries thousands of genes. Each of those genes has a blueprint that is responsible for controlling the function or the development of body parts. 

The cells of babies with too few or too many chromosomes receive messages in a scrambled way on how to develop and function. Too many chromosomes result in Down syndrome, whereas Turner syndrome is caused due to fewer chromosomes. 

#4 Diabetes

Certain maternal health conditions during the gestation period increase the risk of birth defects in the developing fetus. Diabetes is one such condition for which you may not be able to give birth to a healthy baby. If your diabetes is poorly controlled during pregnancy, your child is more likely to be born with defects than they would otherwise. 

Researchers in a study published in PLoS Medicine found a link between congenital abnormalities and maternal diabetes. After combing through several years of data, researchers concluded that congenital cardiac disease and abnormalities were more common in mothers with pre-gestational diabetes mellitus. 

Women planning a baby must consult a healthcare professional and discuss their condition before gestation. 

Wrapping Up

It’s impossible to prevent birth defects in children. But as a parent, being aware of the risk factors that result in congenital abnormalities is important. That’s because it will help you take the necessary precautions that will lessen your chance of giving birth to an unhealthy baby. 

Steer clearing away from harmful substances, eating a balanced diet, and adopting a healthy lifestyle are a few steps for a healthy pregnancy. 

While environmental factors are, to some extent, in your control, nothing much can be done regarding genetic factors. Only a healthcare professional can support you and guide you through their valuable advice in this regard.