What Are Birth Defects?
Birth defects are congenital (born with) disorders that affect approximately 3% of U.S. babies born each year. They are visibly, internally or chemically abnormal conditions in a newborn. Birth defects can be caused by genetics, infection, radiation, exposure to toxic substances or drugs, or result from medical negligence. Sometimes there is no known reason.
A birth defect can occur at any stage of pregnancy—most commonly within the first trimester—and may not be evident during labor and delivery. Its severity and location may affect the baby’s expected lifespan and quality of life. There are many reasons why your baby’s birth defect may qualify for a valid birth injury claim. If you suspect this is the case, you should contact a New Jersey birth defects attorney.
Most Common Birth Defects
Common birth defects affect the brain and spine, the eye, heart and lungs, mouth and face, stomach and intestines, muscle and bone, and chromosomes. The list of all possible birth defects is very long. Here are some common birth defects that affect our birth injury clients.
Brain and Spine Defects
- Spina bifida – a major neural tube defect in which the spine does not close around the spinal cord. It can happen anywhere along the spine. No two cases are the same, nor are the outcomes or quality of life for the child
- Anencephaly – a fatal condition in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. It can be screened for and detected during pregnancy or diagnosed at birth. The baby will not survive.
- Ventricular septal defect – also known as a hole in the heart, the wall between the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) does not form properly, leaving an opening. Some ventricular septal defects require surgery to repair.
- Pulmonary valve atresia and stenosis – the pulmonary valve either never develops or it becomes too thick or fused, and does not open properly. This hampers blood flow to the lungs. It can be treated with medication, catheterization, or surgery.
- Atrioventricular septal defect is both a hole in the heart and a heart valve abnormality. This common birth defect may be partial or complete and requires heart surgery.
- Coarctation of the aorta is when part of the valve that controls blood flow from the heart to the lungs is narrower than usual. A severe case may lead to serious problems for the baby, who will require surgery and other procedures soon after birth to correct this
Mouth and Face Defects
- Cleft lip is when the lip fails to join completely in utero.
- Cleft palate affects the roof of the mouth, which does not join properly in utero. For some babies, both the front and back parts of the palate are open. For others, only part of the palate is open.
- Cleft lip with cleft palate – when both the lip and roof of the mouth do not join completely.
Children with a cleft lip or a cleft palate usually have problems with feeding and speaking clearly, and they may have ear infections, and hearing and dental problems. Surgery can correct or improve these two issues when the baby is between 12 and 18 months old.
- Clubfoot is the most common musculoskeletal birth defect; it occurs when the foot turns inward. Conservative treatments are gentle stretching and physical therapy. However, more severe cases require bracing and eventual surgery to adjust the tendons, ligaments, and joints of the foot and ankle.
- Limb defects are any abnormality to the arms or legs. Treatment range from physical therapy and bracing to surgery and prosthetics.
- Diaphragmatic hernia presents as a hole in the diaphragm, the large muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. Abdominal organs can move through the hole and into a baby’s chest. This can prevent the baby’s lungs from developing completely, causing breathing difficulties for the baby at birth.
- Down syndrome is most common type of chromosomal birth defect. Also called Trisomy 21, this chromosomal abnormality results from an extra copy of chromosome 21, which can cause physical deformities and developmental challenges. An extra copy of the 18th or 13th chromosome are the next most common and also carry physical limitations and a potential shortened life expectancy.
Birth Defects from Medical Negligence
There are situations in which medical negligence leads to birth defects. This is usually because a medical professional failed during a woman’s pregnancy, delivery, or birth to act according to accepted medical standards and injury resulted, or parents were deprived of knowledge that would have allowed them to decide not to bring their pregnancy to term. If medical negligence or a lack of informed choice resulted in a baby’s birth defect, the family may have grounds for a birth injury or medical malpractice claim. Birth defects from medical negligence can be limb defects, head and brain deformities, neural tube defects, cerebral palsy, heart defects, and more.
Medical negligence is a violation of the standard of care and includes:
- Failure to perform or read an ultrasound properly
- Failure to perform prenatal screening tests and proper evaluations, which would have identified the potential presence of birth defect with time to plan properly or arrange termination
- Not advising the parents of risk
- Incorrectly performing or failure to perform a diagnostic test
- Not performing a test after the baby is born to look for a range of birth defects
- Prescribing dangerous or improper medication during a pregnancy
- Ignoring test results or failure to read tests that indicate fetal distress
- Errors in surgery (including C-section), anesthesia, or medication
- Using instruments incorrectly during labor and delivery such as a vacuum and forceps
Birth Defects from Dangerous Drugs
Babies born to mothers who used certain commonly prescribed medications―antidepressants, anti-nausea drugs, chemotherapy agents, opioid pain relievers, antibiotics, anti-convulsant drugs, and acne medications may suffer a birth defect as a result.
The FDA’s labeling system ranks prescription drugs according to likelihood of birth defects and injuries; pharmaceutical companies are required to provide information about their drugs’ effects on pregnant and lactating women. This makes it harder to hide, ignore or downplay the risk of birth defects from drugs.
Some common birth defects from drugs are:
- Cleft lips and palates
- Heart defects
- Genital defects
- Spina bifida
- Brain damage
- Abdominal trauma
- Limb deformities
- Skeletal abnormalities
- Dysmorphic facial features
Birth Defects from Toxic Exposure
From lead-laden water supplies to chemicals used in manufacturing plants and military bases, toxic exposure to environmental hazardous materials affects human health. Birth defects from toxic exposure during pregnancy may happen to someone working or living in an environment with:
- Industrial solvents and other harsh chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene (a metal degreaser), perchloroethylene (used in dry cleaning), and heavy metals (such as mercury, lead, cadmium, manganese). Birth defects from these toxins may result in central nervous system defects, cardiac defects, oral cleft defects, and spina bifida.
- Coal ash which has concentrated heavy metals from the coal-burning process. Arsenic, lead, and selenium cause childhood birth defects, cancer, and neurological issues.
- Semiconductor, silicon chip, or video display manufacturing where employees are exposed to air contaminated with toxic fumes from glycol ethers and other chemicals. Birth defects include deformed or missing limbs or organs, cognitive impairment, heart defects, and blindness.
Contacting an Experienced Birth Defect Lawyer
The New Jersey birth injury lawyers at Britcher, Leone & Sergio, LLC understand the emotional trauma and financial toll on families who are raising a child with a birth defect. As a law firm specializing in birth injuries and medical malpractice, our attorneys have helped many families affected by birth defect caused by medical negligence, drugs or toxic exposure. Contact our firm to learn about your rights.