What are the consequences of birth defects?

The topic of birth defects is a complicated and emotional one. It is complicated in that birth defects are common and can be caused by many different genetic and environmental factors. The fact that the majority of birth defects are without known cause is frustrating to both parents and doctors.

The topic is emotional in that parents are understandably deeply upset when they learn that their child has a serious birth defect. Many parents feel that medical science should be able to prevent, or at least identify in advance, all possible birth defects. They often feel that someone is at fault. Mothers might blame themselves. They might feel that they either did something that caused the defect or that they failed to do something that could have prevented it. This is almost never the case.

Sometimes parents feel that the obstetrician is at fault. (An obstetrician is a doctor who specializes in treating women during pregnancy, delivery, and recovery.) The parents might believe that the obstetrician could have ordered a test, prescribed a medicine, or done something differently to prevent the defect. This is usually not the case, but an honest discussion with the child’s doctor will indicate if any person is at fault.

Parents of a child with a birth defect should schedule several long discussions with the child’s doctor at times when both parents can be present. The parents and doctor should thoroughly discuss possible causes, testing, treatment, and referrals to specialists and support groups. Parents should continue these discussions and should continue asking questions until they are completely satisfied.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/17/2012.

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