After Pregnancy: What Dads Need to Know about Congenital Defects

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

As a new dad, congenital defects, defects that exist at birth (also simply called birth defects), sound scary. But, they are common. Some are minor issues that no one but the parents would ever notice; others are more serious. The most common birth defects include

  • Heart defects: One in 100 to 200 babies has a heart defect, which can range from mild to severe. Heart defects comprise one-quarter to one-third of all birth defects.

  • Down syndrome: One in 800 babies is born with Down syndrome, which causes distinct physical features and mental retardation. The percentage is higher in older mothers and lower in mothers younger than 35.

  • Cleft lip and/or palate: One in 700 to 1,000 babies has deformities of the lip and hard palate.

  • Neural tube defects: One in 1,000 infants has neural tube defects, which affect the brain and spinal column. They include spina bifida, an abnormal opening in the spine, and anencephaly, an absence of part of the brain.

Sixty percent of the time, the reason for the birth defect is unknown. Inherited disorders, on the other hand, can be anticipated and often checked for before delivery if you know you have a family history of certain problems.

Some of the most common inherited genetic disorders include

  • Cystic fibrosis: A disorder that causes thick secretions in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, cystic fibrosis is the most common inherited genetic disorder in Caucasians in the United States, affecting 1 in 3,000 babies. Both parents must carry the defective gene for a child to have the disease; it’s estimated that 12 million people in the United States are carriers.

  • Sickle cell anemia: An autosomal recessive disease that causes deformities of the red blood cells, sickle cell anemia affects mostly people of African and Middle Eastern descent. Approximately 2 million African Americans carry the sickle cell gene. Both parents must pass on the gene for a child to have sickle cell disease.

Minor birth defects are much more common than serious defects. Eye, ear, and limb defects; extra digits; abnormal development of the intestines; and birthmarks may not be life-threatening in most cases, but they can still be devastating for parents. It’s normal to be upset and concerned about birth defects, especially visible ones.