January is Birth Defects Awareness Month

Each year, about one in every 33 babies in the United States is born with a birth defect.

January is National Birth Defects Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about birth defects and highlight efforts to improve the health of people living with these conditions.

What Are Birth Defects?

A birth defect is a structural change present at birth that can affect almost any part of the body. Most birth defects happen during the first three months of pregnancy. Unfortunately, not all are preventable, but there are steps you can take to help ensure your baby grows healthy and stays healthy.

Birth defects can range from mild to severe. The most common birth defects include cleft palate and cleft lip, genetic disorders like Down syndrome, heart defects, musculoskeletal defects, and stomach and intestinal defects. In addition to physical abnormalities, birth defects often manifest in the form of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as intellectual disabilities and autism.

How a defect affects a child’s life depends on which organ or body part is involved and how severe the defect is. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant death and contribute substantially to long-term disability.

What Causes Birth Defects?

Many birth defects are caused by genetic factors beyond our control, researchers say, such as gene mutations or chromosomal problems. However, exposure to chemicals and other toxic substances is a major cause of birth defects.

For some birth defects, like fetal alcohol syndrome, we know the cause. There are other factors that might increase the chances of having a baby with a birth defect such as:

  • Smoking, drinking alcohol or taking certain drugs during pregnancy.
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as being obese or having uncontrolled diabetes before and during pregnancy.
  • Working closely with toxic chemicals, pesticides and heavy metals, as most often found in the electronics and high-tech industries, energy production industry, and farming industry.
  • Taking certain medications, such as isotretinoin, a drug used to treat severe acne.
  • Having someone in your family with a birth defect. To learn more about your risk of having a baby with a birth defect, you can talk with a clinical geneticist or a genetic counselor.
  • Having certain infections during pregnancy such as Zika virus and cytomegalovirus.
  • Experiencing fever greater than 101 degrees or having an elevated body temperature due to heat exposure.
  • Being an older mother, since the risk of chromosomal abnormalities increases with age.

How Can Birth Defects Be Prevented?

Here are healthy behaviors you can take to prepare for pregnancy and your baby:

  • Have a pre-pregnancy checkup. Visit your health care provider to create a treatment plan. Discuss the prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements you’re taking.
  • Limit exposure to chemicals known to cause birth defects, such as solvents and pesticides . See the full list of toxins linked to birth defects here.
  • Take folic acid. Before becoming pregnant take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day and while pregnant take 600 micrograms. Folic acid is a B vitamin that prevents serious birth defects of the brain and spine. Eat foods that contain folate, the natural form of folic acid, such as lentils, green leafy vegetables, black beans, and orange juice.
  • Try to reach a healthy weight. Excess weight can affect your fertility and increase your risk of birth defects and other complications. Maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes eating healthy foods and regular physical activity.
  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful substances.

What Is Toxic Exposure?

Although we are exposed to more chemicals today than ever, federal regulations don’t do enough to study the impact or prevent it. Toxic exposure is direct or indirect contact with any natural or man-made substances or agents that can lead to harmful changes in body structure or function, including illness or death.

Toxic materials can enter the body in different ways, such as through the skin. This is called the route of exposure, the most common of which is through inhalation, or breathing the toxin into the lungs.

Birth defects are often developed within the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. It is important, therefore, to begin limiting exposure to chemicals when you are actively seeking to become pregnant.

Exposure to toxic chemicals can occur in the workplace or through the environment. For example, living near a hazardous waste site has been identified as a possible risk factor for birth defects including spina bifida, cleft lip or palate, gastroschisis, hypospadias, chromosomal congenital anomalies such as Down syndrome, and some heart and blood vessel defects.

It’s not just women who are at risk. For men, exposure to toxic chemicals can alter and weaken sperm, dramatically affecting the fertilized egg and fetus development. A University of Georgia study found that exposure to a now-banned flame retardant can alter the genetic code in sperm, leading to major health defects in children of exposed parents.

What Jobs Are Most At Risk Of Exposure To Toxins?

Industries that have been linked to a high risk of toxic exposure include industrial and manufacturing—specifically semiconductor and electronics manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, oil and gas, health care,  agriculture and farming, among others.

How Can I Prevent Exposure To Toxins At Work?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, read and follow instructions provided by your employer and use personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks, coveralls and respirators. Shower or change clothes before leaving work to avoid carrying contaminants home. If your clothing is contaminated, wash your work clothes separately from the rest of your family’s clothing. If you are actively seeking to have a child, ask your employer what options are available for temporary assignments to less chemical-intensive jobs.

If you believe that you were exposed to toxic chemicals prior to or during pregnancy that may have adversely affected your child, you may also want to contact  qualified attorney to discuss your legal rights.

How We Help Birth Defects Victims

Our alliance of birth defects victims have represented people like you affected by birth defects caused by exposure to dangerous chemicals, aggressively fighting the corporate giants who failed to protect vulnerable workers and residents. If you or a loved one was exposed to chemicals while pregnant and now have a child who suffers from a life-altering birth defect, we can help. Contact us now to get justice with the help of our experienced birth defects attorneys.