About 1 in 33 babies born in the United States have a birth defect, which is a leading cause of death for infants (1 out of 5 infant deaths are caused by birth defects). Birth defects also increase the risk of illnesses and long term disability. Most birth defects happen during the first 3 months of pregnancy, when the internal organs are forming. Most birth defects are the result of many factors, including genetic defects, the parents’ behavior and activities, and toxins in the environment. Research has helped determine some causes of birth defects but the causes of other birth defects presently remain unknown.
Some factors that are known to contribute to increased risk of birth defects include women who smoke (women who smoke during the month prior to becoming pregnant and during pregnancy increase the risks of premature birth, cleft lip, cleft palate, and infant death — women who quit smoking as early as possible during pregnancy can reduce some of the risks for birth defects); women who drink alcohol during pregnancy (babies born to women who drink alcohol during pregnancy may be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)); women who take certain medications (certain prescribed drugs, over-the-counter medications, illegal drugs, and some herbal remedies) shortly before or during pregnancy; obese women who become pregnant (obese women have a higher risk of giving birth to babies with serious birth defects of the brain and spine (neural tube defects) and some heart defects); women who have diabetes; women who have a family history of certain birth defects; women who become pregnant after age 35; etc.
Research has shown that women who take the B vitamin folic acid in supplements before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy have a lower risk of giving birth to babies with certain birth defects involving the brain and spine (neural tube defects). It is recommended that women of child-bearing age take supplements containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.
Since certain medications are believed to increase the risk of certain birth defects, it is imperative that women who plan on getting pregnant or who are pregnant advise their health care providers regarding all of their prescribed and over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements so that a discussion regarding the medications and supplements can be had and changes made if the health care providers recommend changes.
Certain screening tests and procedures are generally recommended during pregnancy. During the first trimester of pregnancy, between the 11th and 13th weeks of pregnancy, the pregnant woman’s blood is tested for levels of two proteins that may signal a possible chromosomal disorder and an ultrasound is performed to screen for certain birth defects involving the baby’s heart and chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome (the ultrasound looks to see if here is increased fluid behind the baby’s neck).
During the second trimester, between the 15th and 20th weeks of pregnancy, the pregnant woman’s blood is tested by what is known as a “triple screen” or “quad screen” depending on the number of proteins being tested. An ultrasound is usually completed between the 18th and 20th weeks of pregnancy to check on the size of the baby and for visible birth defects or other problems with the baby.
If any of the screening tests are abnormal, further diagnostic testing can be done such as high resolution ultrasound (which shows more detail and is usually done between the 18th and 22nd weeks of pregnancy), chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which is usually done between the 10th and 12th weeks of pregnancy, where a small piece of the placenta is tested for chromosomal or genetic disorders in the baby, or amniocentesis, which is usually completed between the 15th and 18th weeks of pregnancy, which tests a small amount of the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby to measure the baby’s protein levels that may indicate certain birth defects such as Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, or Tay-Sachs disease.
If your baby was born with a birth defect, it may have been due to the failure to perform timely and appropriate medical testing or it may have been due to some other medical negligence that could be the basis for a medical malpractice claim. Please visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your local community who may be able to investigate the cause of your baby’s birth defect and determine if it was caused by medical negligence. Our toll free telephone number is 800-295-3959.