There are many causes behind birth defects during critical periods of pregnancy. These factors hamper or prevent the crucial activities during critical pregnancy periods and cause birth defects. These factors can be either avoidable or unavoidable. Avoidable factors can be easily eliminated or avoided to ensure the elimination of risks of congenital disabilities. Such factors include the following:
Negative health habits like smoking, taking drugs or drinking alcohol. For example, alcohol and cocaine are considered teratogens. These promote physical or functional defects in the baby after exposure to pregnant women with the substance. Therefore, it is strictly advised to avoid these habits during pregnancy.
Exposure to chemicals (also considered teratogens
Taking certain medicines (like warfarin, thalidomide, and isotretinoin)
Lack of essential nutrients: Lack of folic acid before and during pregnancy plays a crucial role in creating neural tube defects.
Lack of omega-3-fatty acids and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from the 6th week of pregnancy leads to poor neural development in the fetus. Hence, pregnant mothers should take balanced nutrition to overcome birth defects during critical periods.
Unavoidable factors include the following:
Pregnant mothers with medical conditions like diabetes or obesity should try to lose excess weight before conception. However, it is not possible to eliminate diabetes. However, pregnant women with diabetes need to follow a suitable diet and lifestyle to avoid worsening the impacts of diabetes.
Genetic factors: Having close family members with genetic disorders increases the risk of having a baby with congenital disabilities. It is best to consult with a genetic counselor to evaluate such risks.
Pregnancy after the age of 34 years increases the risk of birth defects during critical periods.
Birth defects during critical periods
Birth defects can be structural or functional. Structural defects include defects in the development of body parts or body systems. Functional defects include defects that cause failure in functional abilities despite the proper development of structures.
However, structural defects like cleft palate (deformity in the roof of the mouth) or cleft lip (deformity in the lip) cause functional issues like difficulty speaking and eating. These deformities occur during six to nine weeks of pregnancy.
Common congenital disabilities include smaller or much larger growth than the average. For example, in microcephaly, the baby’s head is smaller than the average. Body parts or body structures grow larger if they start growing earlier during critical periods of pregnancy. Conversely, it develops a smaller size if it starts growing late during critical periods. These size abnormalities expose the babies to many health issues during infancy or later stages in life.
Harmful exposures during the first trimester of pregnancy can cause the most damaging congenital disabilities. These congenital disabilities include distortions in the structure or function of the head, arms, legs, and spine.
Defects like gastroschisis, commonly diagnosed during the second trimester, involve abdominal wall defects. Besides, birth defects can also occur in organs like the heart (critical congenital heart disease), lungs, or stomach.
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