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Congenital Disorders; How to prevent birth defects

November 17, 2017 - Olusanya Omokorede

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Birth defects, also known as congenital disorders, are physical or biochemical defects that are present at birth and may be inherited or environmentally induced. It results from structural or functional abnormalities present at birth that can lead to physical or mental disability. It can be due to chromosomal abnormality or exposure to environmental factors when the child is developing in the womb or during the process of labour.

Approximately 150,000 babies are born each year with birth defects. Approximately 3 percent of all children born in the U.S. have a major malformation at birth.

Birth defects, including low birth weight babies, are the leading cause of infant mortality. The medical costs of care for children with disabilities resulting from birth defects have been estimated to exceed $1.4 billion annually.


Many of the birth defects are caused by environmental factors. It is therefore important to know the various ways to avoid them such as;

  • Prepare for pregnancy; you can start to take folic acid 400microgram about one month before conception. This helps to prevent the risk of the baby having a neural tube defect. Folic acid helps the normal formation of the spine and the brain of the child.
  • Avoid alcohol when pregnant; excessive consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to alcohol baby syndrome which doctors associate with mental retardation. It can also lead to miscarriages.
  • Avoid smoking when pregnant; Doctors associate smoking during pregnancy with preterm delivery {delivery before the baby is term}, cleft lip and cleft palate.
  • Avoid infections; it is important you avoid infections most especially toxoplasmosis, rubella, herpes, syphilis, cytomegalovirus and varicella zoster {causes chicken pox}. These infections can lead to birth defects. By regularly washing your hands, properly cooking your meals and avoiding contact with infected people, you can minimize this. It is important you promptly report to the hospital if you have been in contact with an infected person. You may also do routine screening before pregnancy or in early stages of pregnancy so that doctors can treat such infections.
  • Register your pregnancy early so that the pregnancy to properly monitor it and correct any correctable defect.
  • Ensure you eat balanced diet during pregnancy

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  • Ensure  a registered midwife or doctor attends to your delivery; poor delivery process {prolonged labour, birth asphyxia} can lead to the damage of some of the brain cells during delivery and can result in mental retardation and movement difficulties
  • Ensure you keep medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension under check
  • Avoid unprescribed drugs and vaccines; they could have a harmful impact on the child. Always discuss with your doctor before you take any drug or vaccine.
  • Avoid herbal concoction; the content and dosing of herbal medications have not been properly studied. It is therefore advisable to avoid them during pregnancy.
  • Try to keep your weight in check; A woman who is obese (a body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher) before pregnancy is at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy. Obesity in pregnancy can predispose to gestational diabetes and its associated complication.\
  • Avoid exposure to environmental hazard such as radiation, lead……
  • Prompt and proper management of jaundice, when noticed in the child, is very important. Jaundice can lead to damage to a newborn’s brain cell with resulting mental retardation and motor abnormalities.
  • Avoid travelling to areas with endemic conditions {such as Zika virus} when trying to conceive.

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Olusanya Omokorede

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