Congenital Birth Defects: Origin, Causes, and Prevention

Congenital Birth Defects: Origin, Causes, and Prevention

The congenital birth defects originate from maternal nonphysiological and pathological processes in her body.

Origin of Congenital Birth Defects

In the prenatal life, the child is at risk of various types of illnesses that can cause congenital birth defects and leave a deep trace in his mental growth and health.

Between the mother and the fetus, there is a partition membrane – a placenta. The maternal blood components should first pass this semi-conductive membrane through the placental uvulas in order to penetrate the fetus’s bloodstream. Thus, it receives food from the mother, oxygen, hormones, and other substances necessary for proper development and good health. But, in the same way, harmful substances, pathogenic microorganisms that cause infectious diseases and defects, can penetrate the fetus.

Causes of Congenital Birth Defects

Mother’s Malnutrition

Also, it happens that the baby does not get enough nutrients through the mother’s blood. If the mother is chronically malnourished, then she cannot supply it with proteins that are the basic material for all tissues. Then the baby is born with some kind of congenital birth defect, it is scrubby, with a low body mass or is born prematurely – before the fortieth week of pregnancy. Such a baby is called premature, it is not mature enough for life outside the womb and is nonresistant to the harmful effects of the environment.

The scrubby, premature babies often have less resistant mental apparatus. That’s why already during their first days of life they show signs of psychic hypersensitivity, poor eating, manifest restlessness, and often crying. Later in life, they often suffer from defects such as speech disorders – stammering, difficulty in movement, and uncontrolled physiological needs. They are prone to emotional problems, although they usually have normal intellectual abilities.

However, it is impossible to determine with certainty how much psychological impediments or congenital birth defects are a result of the preterm, versus the wrong treatment of the environment to the child since his first day of birth. Preterm child’s parents are particularly prone to spoiling, their behaving is too protective, allowing too much and not letting it gain independence, self-esteem, and real attitude toward life. This causes it to become neurotic, hypersensitive, and poorly adjustable, although physically completely normally developed.

Mother’s Blood Rh Factor

Sometimes the mother does not carry the so-called Rh factor in the erythrocytes – blood cells – a protein that is otherwise contained in the blood in 85% of people from both sexes. If the child inherits from their father’s Rh factor then its and its mother’s blood will collide.

The human organism does not tolerate alien proteins and the immune system defends itself from them. Thus, while the mother is pregnant, her immune system will strive to destroy the fetal red blood cells if it contains an Rh factor that she does not have – let’s say it is Rh-negative. Because of this, various congenital birth defects can be caused, most often to the baby’s brain.

The likelihood of damage or a congenital birth defect is greater with an increasing number of pregnancies since with each subsequent pregnancy it increases intolerance to the blood group of the different Rh factor of the baby.

If it is the first pregnancy, it is almost certain that the child will be born healthy and not suffer from any kind of disease or birth defects. In the second pregnancy, 5% of children suffer from damages and congenital birth defects, and in the sixth pregnancy, the percentage increases to 25%.

Damage to their blood from the maternal defense system is manifested by severe jaundice in the newborn. If the child survives the disease, it is likely to remain half-witted or it will cause some of its movements to be impaired, especially noticeable on the face.

Iodine Deficiency in the Mother’s Diet

The insufficient amount of iodine in the mother’s body causes a deficiency of this mineral in the baby too. Then it is born goitrous, the thyroid gland swells and does not work properly.

A child with this kind of disease is more or less lagging behind in intellectual growth. Moreover, it often speaks loudly, and in severe cases, there are deformities in the physics – cretinism.

Pathogenic Organisms in The Mother’s Blood

The brain of the baby and its sensory organs, especially vision and hearing, can also be damaged by pathogenic microorganisms, infections passed by the mother.

From infectious diseases whose pathogens penetrate the placenta and infect the baby, the most common diseases are syphilis and rubella. Maternal syphilis is more dangerous if the disease is about to occur. If the infection is latent and shows no visible symptoms, it is usually not a hazard because the pathogen microorganisms of syphilis have left the blood and retreated into the internal organs.


The child sick of syphilis often dies even in the mother’s body, so she either aborts it or it is stillborn. If the baby survives this infection, it may be faint, blind, deaf, or suffering from epilepsy to various other anomalies. Maternal syphilis certainly endangers the mental growth of her child, so it should be cured as soon as possible.


Rubella is also dangerous for the health of the baby if the pregnant woman catches it during the first three months of pregnancy. For her, it is harmless, similar to measles. But the nervous system of the embryo – the young fetus is very sensitive to the presence of that virus in the blood and can suffer from that kind of congenital birth defect.

Usually, it blocks the further development of the brain, so the child is born with a birth defect and its half-witted, blind or deaf. Sometimes rubella impairs the growth of the baby’s heart, so it suffers from inborn heart anomalies. This aggravates its physical and mental growth and thus turns it into a long-term and even lifelong handicap.

Taking Medicaments During Pregnancy

If the mother during pregnancy takes too many different pain killers, for example, barbiturate acid – Luminal, Phenobarbital, etc., there is a risk that the respiratory center – the breathing center – in the spinal cord of the newborn after the birth will suffer from a birth defect and work with a delay.

Therefore, it can remain oxygen free for a few minutes, which will cause damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and other tissues. This is an anoxia state.

X-Ray Scaning

The tissues of the embryo and the fetus are also very sensitive to X-rays. If the mother is often exposed to X-rays during pregnancy, it may also be affected.

X-rays mostly damage the brain and babies exposed to them are sometimes born with congenital birth defects such as an unusually small brain and an incredibly small skull – microcephaly. They mainly lag behind in intellectual growth.

Mother’s Psychological Condition

There is growing assurance that the psychological conditions of the pregnant woman are transmitted to the baby and affect the formation of its mental life. It is considered that her negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear, dissatisfaction, depression, and others, damage the mental apparatus of the baby, which later makes it nervous, hypersensitive, and difficult to adapt to the environment. But for such an opinion there is no scientific evidence. There is no direct genetic relationship between the nervous system of the mother and the child.

Among the experts, the prevailing opinion is that the neurotic behavior of the young child is mainly due to its self-built nervous system, and not to the emotional difficulties that its mother had during the pregnancy if:

  • The mother was mentally disturbed during pregnancy. (There is no likelihood that after birth her condition will be substantially altered. It is much more likely that her mental problems will be intensified because she is now concerned with new responsibilities.)
  • Pregnancy was unwanted. (The baby will be a burden to the mother.)
  • The mother unconsciously refused to become pregnant. (Then it is likely that she will not love it even when the baby is born.)
  • The mother thought that the child would be a burden before giving birth. (Then dissatisfaction would be even greater after giving birth.)

Such a mother is impatient with the child, nervous, does not know how to be gentle with it, emotionally is cold towards it, always timid, irritable, feeling restless, whimsical, and inconsistent. This makes the child difficult to adapt to the environment or to identify with the mother so that it begins to react in an unsettled or in a restless way.

Prevention of Birth Defects and Health Care During Pregnancy

Child’s Psychohigiene

Modern child health care begins in the prenatal period, as it is known that many inborn birth defects can be successfully prevented only if they are suppressed before birth. The same is true for children’s psychohygiene.

The psychohygiene should be actively engaged in their life even before their birth, in order to eliminate or at least mitigate the negative effects on the development of the nervous system while they are still in the fetus phase.

Regular Gynecological Examinations

The prenatal care of children generally coincides with health care during pregnancy. Therefore, at the same time, it takes care of the mother’s ­better health, and thus at the same time for the healthy development of the child’s nervous system.

Above all, regular visits at the gynecologist and counseling centers are necessary during pregnancy due to controls and advice. The gynecologist who follows the pregnancy is the one who needs to determine whether the pregnant woman suffers from a disease that can endanger her pregnancy or cause damage or a birth defect to the baby.

In case a severe illness such as syphilis is detected, she immediately undergoes intensive treatment. If a woman has already been ill before conceiving, and with pregnancy has not penetrated more than 3-4 months, then, the infection of the fetus can be prevented.

Avoiding Contact With Sick People

Also, the pregnant woman should avoid contact with patients with infectious diseases, especially children with a condition, in order to avoid another of the infectious diseases – rubella. If she concludes that at the beginning of pregnancy she still has rubella, an abortion based on eugenic indications is recommended, so that a child with inborn birth defects not be born.

A Healthy and Complete Diet

During pregnancy, it is necessary for the mother to feed with high-value foods, meals that will be rich in animal proteins, vitamins, and minerals. At the gynecologist, women can get directions about the content of the diet during pregnancy.

Regular General and Specialist Health Examinations

Regular health control may reveal various possible anomalies in the mother’s body, nutritional deficiencies that may cause a congenital birth defect to or endanger the mental growth of the baby.

In the case of vitamins, for example, if it is found that the maternal vitamin D level is low, it can be supplemented with a vitamin D to prevent the baby from being rachitic, or to administer iodized salt in order to prevent a birth defect such as goiters.

If it is determined that a pregnant mother is Rh-negative and the father is Rh-positive, immediate measures may be taken after birth to prevent the erythrocyte disintegration in the baby’s blood. Today, with the help of technology, a blood transfusion in the newborn, a change in whole blood, is made possible by all maternal antibodies that destroy its red blood cells.


During pregnancy, the woman must avoid the use of narcotic drugs, soothing and sleeping drugs, nicotine, and alcohol. At the same time, it is necessary to avoid contact with toxic substances that can be inhaled in the form of vapors or gases or may enter into its digestive organs.

Such a possibility is especially evident when she is in contact with toxic substances at her workplace, for example when working with benzene, mercury, lead, and other evaporative toxic substances.

Roentgen X-rays periodic routine examinations do not harm the baby’s health. It is desirable a less invasive review method to be selected if possible, such as an ultrasound, avoiding long-term radiation, such as radiotherapy for the tumor treatment.