Although a majority of babies born are generally healthy, some infants are born with a congenital (acquired after conception) or hereditary birth defect. Some of these defects are treatable with medicine or surgery, but it is important to create a positive environment for the child to help minimise the stress.
Many birth defect complications can be treated through early detection and intervention. Here are some of the most common birth defects and the impact they may have on your baby and you.
Congenital Heart Defects
Congenital heart defects occur in about 1 in 110 births. They have a variety of causes, including genetic abnormalities, or a mistake during foetal development. Some may be so mild that they have no visible symptoms. In such cases, the doctor usually discovers the problem when she detects an abnormal heart sound – called a murmur- during a routine examination. Some murmurs are meaningless; further tests are usually required to determine whether your baby’s murmur is due to a heart defect. Serious heart defects are outwardly detectable and, if left untreated, can cause congestive heart failure. In this case the heart becomes incapable of pumping enough blood into the lungs or other parts of the body.
The symptoms for congenital heart defects include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Breathing difficulties
- Feeding problems, which result in inadequate weight gain
- Swelling in the legs, abdomen, or about the eyes
- Pale grey or bluish skin
Most heart defects can be corrected or improved through surgery, medication, or a mechanical aid like a pacemaker.
Cleft lip or Palate
Cleft lip or palate is more common among Asians. The exact cause is hard to determine but it may be due to genetic and environmental factors. These prevent either the hard palate (the roof of the mouth), the soft palate (the tissue at the back of the mouth), or the upper lip, all of which normally are split early in foetal development, from closing.
The cleft can be mild (a notch on the upper lip) or severe (involving the lip, the floor of the nostril, and the dental arch). A child with a cleft palate usually needs a speech expert. Language development can be affected not only by the structure of the lip and palate, but also by the side effects of middle-ear infections, which are common in babies and toddlers with this defect. Babies with a cleft palate may also need help with feeding. As they have trouble sucking, they must be fed in a sitting position with a special bottle. Depending on the severity of the condition, mothers who breastfeed may have to express milk and bottle-feed baby until the cleft is repaired.
Surgical repair for a cleft lip is usually done by about 3 months of age. Surgery to repair a cleft palate, which restores the partition between the nose and the mouth, is done later on – between 6 and 12 months of age. This allows for some normal growth of the child’s face. Repair of a cleft lip or palate almost always leaves the child with minimal scarring and a face that looks like that of most other children.
Missing or Underdeveloped Limbs
The cause of this birth defect is largely unknown. Some experts believe that maternal exposure during pregnancy to a chemical or virus that only mildly affects the mother, might be a possible cause for the same.
When a child is born with a limb anomaly, the doctor refers the parents to an orthopedic specialist and a physical therapist. The child is then fitted with a prosthesis (artificial body part) as soon as possible so that he becomes comfortable with it early one. The child may also need to undergo intensive physical therapy so that he learns to use the prosthesis much as other children learn to control their body parts.
Down syndrome is a common abnormality that can cause mental health to deteriorate in kids. It can be diagnosed before birth and is not curable. However, early intervention can help a child develop to his full potential. Down syndrome is known to occur in 1 in 800 births overall, but the incidence is much higher in older mothers.
A child with Down syndrome generally has characteristic physical features such as:
- Slanted eyes
- Small ears that fold over at the topA small mouth, which makes the tongue appear larger
- A small nose with a flattened nasal bridge
- A short neck
- Small hands with short fingers
More than 50 percent of children with this defect have visual or hearing impairments. Ear infections, heart defects and intestinal malformations are also common among children with this defect. Though children with Down syndrome have some degree of mental health degradation, most can be expected to do many of the same things that any young child can do, such as walking, talking, and being toilet trained. They may learn to do so later on than unaffected children.
Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that is caused by a malformation of a neural tube (the embryonic structure that develops into the brain and spine). This prevents the backbone from closing completely during fetal development. Some cases of neural-tube defects can be detected through tests given to the mother during pregnancy. When such a case is suspected, the baby is usually delivered by cesarean section so specialists can be on hand during and after the birth.
Spina bifida ranges in severity from practically harmless to causing leg paralysis and bladder and bowel control problems.
In the most severe cases, the baby is operated on within 48 hours of birth. Parents are then taught how to exercise the baby’s legs and feet to prepare her for walking with leg braces and crutches. Some children may eventually need to use a wheelchair. They will also with specialists in orthopaedics and urology.
There are plenty of new treatments being studied and made available for babies born with birth defects. Parents who care for them are encourage to ask questions, learn as much as they can, and focus on their child’s particular impairments so they can do everything possible to help the child develop to his full potential. The experts at KIMS Cuddles will always assist you, should you have any questions about birth defects in particular, or about your newborn in general.
*Information shared here is for general purpose Please take doctors’ advice before taking any decision.