Most birth defects are caused by genetic or environmental factors or a combination of the two (multifactorial birth defects). In most cases, however, the cause is unknown. A birth defect is a health problem or a physical abnormality that a baby has at birth. It can be very mild or severe. Some birth defects are life-threatening, in which case a baby may only live for a few months. Birth defects are also referred to as “congenital anomalies” or “congenital abnormalities.”
According to study, from Jan 2003 to Dec 2012, out of 16,171 live-births at SGH, 259 patients were diagnosed with Congenital heart disease (CHD). CHD constitutes a significant proportion of birth defects and is a leading cause of mortality. CHD is a heart problem that’s present at birth. It’s caused by improper development of the heart during fetal development.
Two of the most common Congenital heart diseases shown from the study are Atrial septal defect and Ventricular septal defect, which is an abnormal opening leading to free flow of blood between the atria or ventricles. Treatment is based on the severity of your child’s heart condition. Some mild heart defects don’t require any treatment. Others can be treated with medications, interventional procedures or surgery.
Children with congenital heart defects often suffer from heart failure, meaning their hearts can’t pump adequately. And since heart muscle has very little growth capacity after birth—nowhere near enough to fix a severe cardiac injury—heart transplant is often the sole treatment option.
Women At-Risk of causing Congenital Heart Disease to their Baby
New mothers often wonder if they did anything to cause their baby’s CHD. It’s important to remember that in most cases, CHD has no known cause. Most of the time, there is no identifiable reason as to why the heart defect occurred. However, some at-risk groups include:
· women who take anti-seizure medication while pregnant
· women who take lithium while pregnant
· women who have phenylketonuria but do not adhere to the special diet necessary
· women who have insulin-dependent diabetes or lupus
· women who contract rubella while pregnant
· There is approximately an 8-10% risk that a mother with a congenital heart defect (CHD) will have a baby with some type of CHD, but not necessarily the same defect as the mother. High risk prenatal monitoring of the mother and baby is recommended.
If you fall into any of these categories, it’s important to talk to your doctor while pregnant.
Steps to lower chances of birth defect
There are many steps a woman can take to lower her chances of having a child with a birth defect, including staying healthy before deciding to become pregnant. That’s because a woman often does not know she is pregnant in the first few weeks, which can be crucial for the health and development of the baby.
Steps you can take throughout your pregnancy include:
Babies born to mothers who smoke tend to be lower birthweight; in addition exposure to secondhand smoke can harm the fetus
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a balanced diet before and during pregnancy is not only good for the mother’s overall health, but essential for providing the developing fetus with essential nutrients for proper growth and development.
Maintain a healthy weight
Women who are overweight may experience medical problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and women who are underweight may have babies with low birthweight.
Medical management of pre-existing conditions
Take control of any current or pre-existing medical problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid each day can help lower the risk of neural tube defects, or birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. The vitamin is also found in some green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits and fortified breakfast cereals.
Avoid exposure to alcohol and drugs during pregnancy
Be sure to inform your physician of any medications and herbal supplements you are taking, since they can all have adverse effects on the developing fetus.
Avoid exposure to harmful substances
These include lead, pesticides and radiation (i.e., X-rays), which may harm the developing fetus.
Lower your risk for infection
Pregnant women should avoid eating undercooked meat and raw eggs and avoid all contact and exposure to cat feces and cat litter, which may contain a parasite, toxoplasma gondii, that causes toxoplasmosis. Other sources of infection include insects that have been in contact with cat feces.
Take a daily vitamin
Begin taking a prenatal vitamin daily, prescribed by your doctor, to make sure your body gets all the necessary nutrients and vitamins needed to nourish a healthy baby.
Hope for the best but be prepared when things don’t go your way.