Information for Patients
A birth defect is a problem that happens while a baby is developing in the mother's body. Most birth defects happen during the first 3 months of pregnancy. One out of every 33 babies in the United States is born with a birth defect.
A birth defect may affect how the body looks, works or both. Some birth defects like cleft lip or neural tube defects are structural problems that can be easy to see. To find others, like heart defects, doctors use special tests. Birth defects can range from mild to severe. Causes can include
- Exposures to medicines or chemicals. For example, alcohol abuse can cause fetal alcohol syndrome.
- Infections during pregnancy
- Certain medicines. Before you get pregnant, talk to your health care provider about any medicines you take.
- Not getting enough of certain nutrients. For example, not getting enough folic acid before and during pregnancy is a key factor in causing neural tube defects.
For most birth defects, the cause is unknown.
Health care providers can diagnose certain birth defects during pregnancy, with prenatal tests. That's why it important to get regular prenatal care. Other birth defects may not be found until after the baby is born. Sometimes the defect is obvious right away. Other times, the health care provider may not discover it until later in life.
Babies with birth defects often need special care and treatments. The treatments may include surgery, medicines, assistive devices, and therapies.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Fetal Health and Development
A normal pregnancy lasts nine months. Each three-month period of pregnancy is called a trimester. During each trimester, the fetus grows and develops. Regular medical checkups and prenatal tests are very important. They can
- Help keep you and your baby healthy
- Spot problems with your baby (if there are any). In some cases, health care professionals can treat the problem before your baby is born. But even when they cannot, it can still be helpful to know about the problem early on. That gives you time to learn about your baby's condition and prepare for any challenges you may face after the baby is born.
- Prevent problems during delivery. For example, if your baby is breech (bottom first or feet first, instead of head first), you may need to have a Cesarean section to avoid complications.
Besides getting medical care, there are other things you can do to keep your baby as healthy as possible. It's important not to drink or smoke. Try to eat a healthy diet and make sure to take care of any health problems you have during pregnancy.
Health Problems in Pregnancy
Every pregnancy has some risk of problems. You may have problems because of a health condition you had before you got pregnant. You could also develop a condition during pregnancy. Other causes of problems during pregnancy can include being pregnant with more than one baby, a health problem in a previous pregnancy, substance abuse during pregnancy, or being over age 35. Any of these can affect your health, the health of your baby, or both.
If you have a chronic condition, you should talk to your health care provider about how to minimize your risk before you get pregnant. Once you are pregnant, you may need a health care team to monitor your pregnancy. Some common conditions that can complicate a pregnancy include
- High blood pressure
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Kidney problems
- Autoimmune disorders
Other conditions that can make pregnancy risky can happen while you are pregnant - for example, gestational diabetes and Rh incompatibility. Good prenatal care can help detect and treat them.
Some discomforts, like nausea, back pain, and fatigue, are common during pregnancy. Sometimes it is hard to know what is normal. Call your health care provider if something is bothering or worrying you.