Birth defects are not uncommon. For every 33 babies born in the United States each year, one is born with a defect. That adds up to about 120,000 babies each year.
These types of defects can happen to almost any part of the body. The severity of which depends mostly on the organ or body part that is affected, and to what degree. While some of these defects may be detected during pregnancy, many of them are not. Some less severe defects are not discovered until later in life.
Most commonly, this organ is the heart. The most common defect of the heart is a ventricular septal defect (VSD), or a hole in the wall between the heart's chambers. Other common defects include spina bifida, clubfoot, cleft palate, and congenitally dislocated hip. There are also less common metabolic defects, which are problems with a baby's chemistry.
It is thought that these defects are the result of a complex mix of factors. Genetics, behaviors, and the environment are all thought to play a role. In some cases, we know the cause of a defect. Most often, we do not know what the cause is.
We do know that these defects develop most often in the first three months of pregnancy while the babies organs are forming. Less frequently, they may occur during the remaining six months of pregnancy, while organs and tissues continue to grow.
Though some birth defects cannot be prevented, there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of having a healthy baby.
One such recommendation is to have 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily. Women looking to become pregnant can start taking prenatal vitamins about one month before and continue to take them throughout the pregnancy. Doctors also recommend trying to reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant. This is because obesity while pregnant increases the chances of several birth defects as well as pregnancy complications. Other recommendations include seeing your doctor about any medications you may need to take throughout your pregnancy and quitting unhealthy habits like alcohol use, smoking, and drug use.
The above video, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, goes into detail about congenital defects of the heart.