FAQ on Birth Defects: Focus on Cerebral Palsy

According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), one in every 33 babies born in the United States is born with a birth defect; the leading cause of death in infants. Birth defects-such as spina bifida-and birth injuries-such as cerebral palsy-affect millions of American children and their families. Birth defects and injuries not only minimize a child’s quality of life and reduce life expectancy, but also require costly medical interventions.

While many birth defects are not preventable, expectant mothers can reduce their risks for birth defects and injuries. Preventive measures include taking folic acid daily, abstaining from smoking, drinking or using illegal drugs, following prescription instructions and learning how to reduce risks for infections. In addition to these measures, mothers receiving early prenatal care can significantly reduce their babies’ risk for birth defects and injuries.

Prenatal care impacts fetal health, because according to health experts, most birth defects occur in the first three months of pregnancy. This is a crucial stage of fetal development, because organs and organ systems are forming.

Proof that prenatal care is a key to prevention can be supported by national and international data. In March 2011, researchers in the Netherlands reported that after reviewing records from 1990 to 2005, incidences of cerebral palsy fell. The decline is attributed to sound care for at-risk mothers, proactive treatment of newborns, and improvements in prenatal care. This international study complements findings announced in the United States one month prior.

In the February 2011 online edition of the journal “Pediatrics,” University of California researchers confirmed a correlation between cerebral palsy and low-birth weight babies. By analyzing over 6 million birth records, pediatric neurologist Dr. Yvonne Wu and her colleagues estimate incidence of cerebral palsy at 2 to 2.5 cases per every 1000 live births, as compared to the Netherlands study which reported 1.4 per 1000. In addition, the study found that women who do not receive prenatal care doubled their risk of delivering a child with this birth injury.

In order to reduce the risk of this incurable condition, medical professionals may need to be more proactive with monitoring expectant mothers, in order to reduce risks for brain injuries to neonates. Prospective parents have an obligation to seek competent prenatal and pediatric care for their children to ensure healthy development.

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