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FAQ: Causes of Birth Defects and Birth Injuries

As defined by the March of Dimes, a birth defect is "any abnormality affecting body structure or function that is present from birth." For every 33 babies born in the United States each year, one will be born with a birth defect including serious conditions that could result in the infant's death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC estimates the costs of treatment for babies born with birth defects in the billions each year.

Given the threat of mortality for infants born with birth defects, the on-going costs of care and treatment, and the fact that many birth defects that develop after conception are preventable, organizations such as the March of Dimes and CDC have promoted maternal and pre-natal care as potential life-savers.

Advocates have focused on promoting knowledge about medications that may cause birth defects if used by the mother during pregnancy, such as use of thalidomide, some retinoids, anticancer drugs, ACE inhibitors, and even some OTC medications and herbal supplements. Doctors treating pregnant women need to be aware of the dangers for the fetus for certain prescribed and non-prescribed drugs and advise expectant mothers accordingly.

Birth Injuries Masked as Birth Defects

In some cases, birth injuries mimic the symptoms and conditions of a genetic birth defect. Genetic birth defects arise because of the composition of the parents' genes. Birth injuries are caused by injuries to the child during labor and delivery, such as sustained oxygen deprivation (asphyxia) in the birth canal or physical trauma to the head, shoulders and neck if the pace of delivery must be rapidly accelerated. Cerebral palsy is one example of a birth defect that can also arise because of a birth injury caused by trauma or oxygen deprivation.

Unfortunately, OB/GYNs, obstetricians and labor and delivery nurses make mistakes every day. Some medical errors related to events that happened during labor and delivery can be diagnosed as birth defects, even if the condition was actually the result of medical malpractice. If your child was diagnosed with a birth defect, seek other medical opinions to determine if it might have been caused by birth injury. Contact an experienced birth injury lawyer if you receive conflicting diagnoses for your baby's condition.


Located in Philadelphia, Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., home of MyPhillyLawyer, serves clients in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States.

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