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The purpose of this causal research is to show the effects of lifestyle actions, environmental, and biological factors on the rate of birth defects. Though many lifestyle choices lead to an increased rate of birth defects, the impact on infants is tremendous and important to consider. Birth defects result in structural differences, digestive problems, and genetic abnormalities in newborns, which can result in social challenges, lifelong treatment, and difficulties performing day-to-day tasks (CDC 2017, 2018, 2019). Lifestyle choices, biological factors, and environmental factors in mothers are common causes of birth defects in infants (Gross, Harris, Brown, & Gauthier, 2017; Mayo Clinic, 2018; Turner, 2017; Children’s Wisconsin, 2019; NICHD, 2018; Unplanned Pregnancies, 2019; Williams, & Davidson, 2008).
Unhealthy lifestyle habits lead to birth defects in infants, which lead to chronic treatment and lifelong difficulties (Children’s Wisconsin, 2019; CDC, 2018). Considering the impacts of lifestyle choices on birth defects of infants is critical to understanding birth defects as a whole.
Keywords: Birth defects, mother, infant, biological factors, lifestyle choices
Birth Defects: Lifestyle Choices and Chronic Effects
William Butler Yeats (n.
d.) said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. These words by Yeats are justified when talking about birth defects and the lifelong consequences that can result. Teaching women and families about the dangers of certain actions on a pregnancy is crucial to avoiding these abnormalities. Although not all birth defects have a direct link to an action performed by the mother, certain ones can be prevented by healthy living. Birth defects have a wide array of effect on families as well as the individual that is affected.
A diagnosis of a birth defect could be anything from taking a few additional steps to stay healthy or a life altering change that requires years of treatment and therapy. A good understanding of the causes and effects of various birth defects is the key to preventing them. Though many lifestyle choices lead to an increased rate of birth defects, the impact on infants is tremendous and important to consider.
Birth defects result in structural differences, digestive problems, and genetic abnormalities in newborns, which can result in social challenges, lifelong treatment, and difficulties performing day-to-day tasks. In the United States, one out of every 33 babies, which is 3% of all babies born, are affected by one of the many known birth defects (See Figure 1). Overall, that number may not seem shocking. However, as there are 3,855,500 infants born in the U.S. each year (CDC, 2017), that equates to roughly 115,665 babies that are born with birth defects. This would the equivalent to more than 1600 school buses full of infants that have birth defects born each year. There are numerous forms of how birth defects can present themselves. They can categorize as chromosomal abnormalities such as trisomy 21, which is Down syndrome. They can affect the central nervous system, with an example being spina bifida. They can cause the orofacial defect called cleft palate, the cardiovascular defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, as well as many other gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and eye abnormalities (CDC: Data, 2018). These defects and abnormalities can be small challenges that are manageable in everyday life, or catastrophic life-changing events that require lifelong treatment and medication. Some of the challenges that can present are: immobilization, the inability to speak, see, hear, eat, digest food properly, and several other internal struggles as well. It is important to look at the different structural defects in detail to understand the complexity of some birth defects.
There are many different forms of birth defects. Each case is unique to each individual. One example of a defect within the structure of an infant would be spina bifida. This is a change in the neural tube that affects the spine. There are 3 different forms depending on the severity of the opening that is created within the spinal cord and surrounding nerves (See Figure 2). Another example of a structural abnormality is a reduction deformity. This results in the upper or lower limbs when they do not fully develop in utero (CDC: Reduction, 2018). There are hundreds of examples of these defects and multiple forms of each one. They cause the individual to require treatment in various forms. Structural abnormalities are important to consider, just as digestive abnormalities are a significant aspect to consider.
A few critical birth defects rule the category of digestion. These defects include esophageal atresia and rectal/large intestinal atresia/stenosis. Esophageal atresia is where part of an infant’s esophagus is not fully developed. Rectal/large intestinal atresia is where a part of the rectum or intestinal tract is not fully developed or is too narrow for material to pass through (CDC: Data, 2018). Both birth defects affect how the digestive tract functions. Without proper development of critical digestive organs, treatment and accessories to aid in proper digestion may be utilized. In some severe cases, tube feeding, catheters, and colostomy bags are required. This creates a huge challenge on both the child and the caretaker. Having these defects usually requires the assistance of a nurse or aid. This can be costly and time-consuming, depending on the situation. Just as digestion plays a role in various birth defects, so do genetic abnormalities.
Genetic abnormalities are generally the most commonly known. The most common example of this is Down syndrome, otherwise known as trisomy 21. This abnormality is the most common of all birth defects at a rate of one out of every 700 babies born. Down syndrome is an extra 21st chromosome that can cause many different effects including, but not limited to, a flattened face, almond shaped eyes, shortened height, slower verbal cues, and lessened intelligence (CDC: Down Syndrome, 2018). Although these are general characteristics, most individuals with this genetic difference function in many of the same ways as normally functioning individuals, just with more difficulty or at a slower rate. There are a few other less common genetic defects called trisomy 13 and trisomy 18. These differences are an extra 13th or 18th chromosome. Trisomy 13 can cause severe intellectual disabilities as well as many structural abnormalities. Trisomy 18 is one of the most severe. This can be life-threatening during and after birth (CDC: Data, 2018). All of these chromosome differences can hinder an infant’s life in countless ways. Each case of these defects is treated differently. These changes can sometimes be avoided, but often occur within families that have had these genetic abnormalities before. Evaluating how these changes can affect day-to day life of those affected is a very crucial part of the process.
Many children with birth defects have a different lifestyle than those who are not affected. These individuals often have social deficits, the need for precise treatment or therapy, and assistance with daily tasks that may seem easy for others. Depending on the type and severity of the defect, some must wear braces to assist with mobility or take developmental education courses to reinforce learning concepts. An example would be a child that is affected by trisomy 21, or Down syndrome. They may require additional help in school because they process information differently than other students. Another example would be an individual that has spina bifida requiring a wheelchair, because their spinal cord and nerves have been damaged, which causes them to have a mobility disability. Often, these instances are accompanied by social challenges. Typically, society treats individuals with disabilities or defects differently simply because they cannot complete the same tasks as easily as another. This results in the individual affected having social inabilities that could include: a difficult time creating meaningful relationships, trouble speaking in front of others, and a lack of self-esteem.
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