There are more than 4,000 different kinds of birth defects, ranging from minor ones that need no treatment to serious ones that cause disabilities

Chinenye Ezenwa

While still in the womb, some babies have problems with how their organs and other body parts form; how they work or how their bodies turn food into energy. These health problems are called birth defect.

Birth defect, also known as a congenital disorder, is a condition present at birth regardless of its cause. It may result from genetic or chromosomal disorders, exposure to certain medications or chemicals or certain infections during pregnancy. There are more than 4,000 different kinds of birth defects, ranging from minor ones that need no treatment to serious ones that cause disabilities or require medical or surgical treatment. According to Lagos-based doctor, Rasheed Oladipo, congenital anomalies also known as birth defects, can be defined as structural or functional anomalies that occur during intrauterine life and can be identified prenatally, at birth or later in life.

READ ALSO: Keke rider’s wife gives birth to 5 babies

According to him, “every 4.5 minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect. Major birth defects are conditions present at birth that cause structural changes in one or more parts of the body”.

Studies have shown that there are two major types of birth defects: Structural disorders in which there are problems with the shape of a part of the body and functional disorders in which there are problems with how a body works. Functional disorder also includes metabolic and degenerative disorders. Some birth defects include both structural and functional disorders.

Oladipo, however, explained that structural birth defect and metabolic birth defect are the two major types of birth defect.

“If a baby is born with a part of the body that is missing or malformed, it is called a structural birth defect. When there is problem with a baby’s body chemistry, it is called metabolic birth defect. Metabolic defects prevent the body from properly breaking down food to create energy. Examples include Tay Sachs disease, a fatal disease that affects the central nervous system. Examples of structural birth defect include heart defects, spina bifida, clubfoot, cleft palate, cerebral palsy, and congenital dislocated hip,’’


Newborn congenital defects often have a variety of causes, ranging from pregnancy or birth complications to genetic malformations to viral infection in the uterus. In many cases, however, a congenital defect may have no known cause.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), congenital defects can be caused by single gene defects, chromosomal disorders, multifactorial inheritance, environmental teratogens and micronutrient deficiencies.

Most birth defects are caused by genetic or environmental factors or a combination of the two.

Genetic or inherited causes include chromosomal defects caused by too few or too many chromosomes or problems in the structure of the chromosomes, such as Down syndrome. Single gene defects a mutation in one gene causes the defect. Also, environmental cause include a drug, alcohol or a disease the mother has that can increase the chance for the baby to be born with a defect. An agent that can cause a birth defect is known as Teratogen.

Related News

Also, medical practitioner, Philip Akinwande, said: “A combination of the two causes of defect is known as multifactorial birth defect. This defect is caused by a combination of genes and environmental exposures. In other words, a person can inherit a gene that increases sensitivity to an environmental trigger such as cleft lip.”


Birth defects can be diagnosed before a baby is born through prenatal tests, which also help determine if a mother has an infection or other condition that is dangerous to the foetus. This can help in knowing about the baby’s condition ahead of time and planning for the future. Other birth defects can also be found during routine newborn check up most especially sickle cell disease.

Parents who have concerns about another specific birth defect may have their baby tested for it and possibly talk to a doctor before the baby is born.

When a congenital defect is discovered, a complete physical examination is important to discover and rule out multiple malformations. A detailed examination should include neurological functions and reflexes, head, neck, facial features, skin, chest wall, heart and lungs, abdomen, genitalia and anus, spine and back.

Prevalence and symptoms

Research has shown that congenital heart defects occur in about 1 in 110 births and have a variety of causes, including genetic abnormalities or a mistake during foetal development. Some may be so mild that they have no visible symptoms.

Heart defect symptoms include heart rhythms, shortness of breath, failure to feed or develop normally. Down syndrome includes lazy eyes or spots, difficulty in thinking, up slanting palpebral fissures, displacement of the tongue, and excess skin at the back of the neck. Cleft lip, palate includes physical deformity, hearing loss, mouth breathing, nasal congestion and speech disorder. Spina bifida symptoms are muscle weakness, bed-wetting, hunched back, nerve injury, and paralysis of the body’s lower half or physical deformity.

Habits that could lead to birth defect

Akinwande stated that there are many bad habits that women indulge in, which could lead to birth defect. He said: “Women who smoke have high risk of giving birth to a child with a defect. Also high alcohol intake can destroy some organs in the baby’s body that is why it is advised to stay away from alcohol when pregnant. Eating unhealthy diet, taking harmful substances can also lead to birth defect.”


Experts say many birth defects can’t be prevented, but that a woman can do some things, before and during pregnancy, to help lower the chances of having a baby with a birth defect.

Said he: “There are many steps a woman can take to lower her chances of having a child with defect, including staying healthy before deciding to become pregnant. This is because a woman often does not know when she is pregnant in the first few weeks, which can be crucial for the health and development of the body.

“Before pregnancy, women should make sure their vaccinations are up to date, make sure they don’t have any sexually transmitted disease, avoid unnecessary medicines and talk to a doctor about the medicines they are taking. They should ensure they take the recommended dose of folic acid for this is good for the health.”


Because the symptoms and problems caused by birth defects differ, treatments also differ. Treatments range from medications, therapies to surgeries and assistive devices. Assistive devices include orthopaedic braces to help patients with limb defects to walk and cochlear implants for hearing impairment. Steroid medications, such as prednisone, can help people with muscular dystrophy increase muscle strength, ability. Physical therapy is also useful for building strength and reducing weakness.

Best foods for pregnant women

It is very important to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy. It is the time the body needs additional nutrients, vitamins and minerals. A diet that lacks key nutrients may negatively affect the baby’s development. Consume dairy products for a good source of calcium, magnesium and various B vitamins. Also, legumes such as peas, beans, soybeans are excellent for protein, iron and all that the body needs during pregnancy. Eggs are ultimate health foods because they contain a bit of almost every nutrient you need, fish liver oil, berries, whole grains, and water are essential for good development during pregnancy.

READ ALSO: Outrage as woman who got pregnant for son-in-law aborts pregnancy