Birth abnormalities can affect a newborn’s appearance, brain, and bodily functions, or both. Per statistics, one in 33 babies is conceived with a congenital disability. Some of these are obvious, like cleft palate or cleft lip. Others need to be diagnosed and tested for more confirmation and clarity. For instance, heart defects. The parents and the family are sometimes the last to know about these defects because they are not educated about prenatal care.
Congenital abnormalities occur when the baby is developing inside the mother’s womb. Specific substances, drugs, or medicines can heighten the risk of newborns to have these defects. These substances, or teratogens, can either result in negative defects or miscarriage during the first 14 days of the mother’s pregnancy. When the womb is around 15 to 60 days old, it is most vulnerable to the side of effects of these teratogens, leading to severe birth defects. Genetics can also cause defects.
There is no exact method or strategies to prevent these defects, but ultimately, a healthy lifestyle and regular checkups with your obstetrician during your whole pregnancy can help decrease the risk and produce a healthy baby. There are, however, some tips and ways in which moms can do to decrease the risk of delivering a baby with congenital birth defects.
Recent research studies have shown that prenatal exposure to smoking may play a major role in children developing ADHD later during childhood. — Erlanger A. Turner Ph.D.
Avoid Smoking. The best time to stop is even before pregnancy. However, if a mother is a smoker, she better be sure to quit the moment she finds out she’s pregnant. Also, second-hand smoke should also be avoided, as this may cause more damaging effects than first-hand smoke itself. Some commonly seen birth defects that are caused by smoking include:
- Cleft lip
- Cleft palate
- Premature labor
- Intrauterine growth restriction
FYI: Nicotine, the substance in cigarettes, is about 15% more concentrated in the newborn blood than it is in the mother. Thus, the more the mother smokes, the more risk it is for the baby to have defects.
Avoid Drinking Alcoholic Beverages. Alcohol abuse or consumption is one of the leading causes of birth defects. Although some mothers claim that they drink small amounts of alcohol, no exact amount can be confirmed safe during pregnancy, and there is no safe time within the whole period of pregnancy that is safe as well. If you are an expectant mother and you only want a healthy baby, then you should inhibit yourself from consuming even the smallest amount of alcohol for you and your baby’s safety.
Alcohol hinders normal fetal development. It can also cause other abnormalities, which include:
- Poor growth of the baby
- Joint abnormalities
- Congenital heart conditions
- Intellectual and emotional disability
- Abnormal coordination
- Abnormal brain development
When alcohol is introduced to the fetus, this causes extensive damage to the baby’s brain. This hinders normal nerve cell development and eventually leads to nerve cell death.
Avoid Using Prohibited Drugs. Now that the street drug, marijuana, is legal, there have been a lot of issues especially among obstetricians and other pregnancy specialists. Though some believe that this drug does not contain teratogens and does not contribute to birth defects, the CDC strongly advises pregnant women against smoking marijuana and other illicit drugs, as these may cause premature contractions, low birth weight, and premature labor. There has also been evidence linking marijuana and late neurodevelopmental abnormalities as the baby is growing.
Despite the legality of the so-called ‘medical marijuana,’ expectant mothers should be wise not to risk themselves and their unborn baby. There is, after all, no safe level documented for these street drugs.
Mothers who perceived stronger social and emotional support from their partner mid-pregnancy had fewer symptoms of post-partum depression and anxiety after giving birth. Further, their newborns were less sensitive to stress, indicating they too benefited from the support provided by their mother’s partners. — Guy Winch Ph.D.
Always Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle. Typically, diabetes and obesity are two conditions that expectant mothers have during pregnancy, and doctors work with mothers in preventing these conditions are they increase the risk of mothers delivering unhealthy babies. If diabetes cannot be controlled, the mother and the unborn baby are ultimately affected by the high blood sugar. Babies born from diabetic mothers usually have relatively larger organs and have low blood sugars after they are born. Additionally, some of them don’t get the chance to be born.
There are particular conditions that are experienced by newborns from diabetic mothers. These include:
- Poor feeding
- Heart and lung failure (baby presents with rapid breathing and heart rate and mottled skin)
- Congenital heart defects
Women who want to be pregnant and are already diabetic should try hard to lose weight or to find ways to lower their sugar levels. During pregnancy, these mothers should limit themselves from gaining more weight than usual and do exercises that are recommended for them. Blood sugar monitoring and taking proper medications should also be done.
Pregnancy is a happy and exciting event, but it is also a sensitive one. Mothers – and their partners – should do well to take care of the unborn baby so that no untoward events might occur. Babies are blessings that need to be taken care of and treasured.
Negative outcomes should a woman not seek treatment include pregnancy complications (constriction of blood flow to fetus can occur, as well as premature delivery) and a continuous episode of anxiety/depression that spans out past pregnancy into the critical first year of the baby’s life; complications are deleterious without intervention and can impact maternal-child bonding as well as impair child development. — Andrea Schneider, LCSW