What Are the Differences Between Birth Defects & Birth Injuries?

4 Min Read

Child getting examined by a pediatrician.

There are several important factors that separate a birth injury from a birth defect, particularly when the condition was developed. Although these conditions can be mistaken for one another, it is very important to know the differences between birth injuries and birth defects in order to get the treatment your child needs. Learn more about the differences below.

Birth Injuries vs. Birth Defects

The main differences between a birth defect and a birth injury are how and when the condition developed.

Birth injuries develop before, during, or shortly after the birthing process. Physical trauma to the child can result in a birth injury. Many birth injury cases are also linked to medical negligence and could have been prevented with proper care during delivery.

Birth defects develop while the child is in the womb, often during the first trimester of pregnancy. Some birth defects have no particular cause, whereas others stem from external factors such as maternal medical conditions, drug use, medications, and more.

Another main difference between birth injuries and birth defects is how often they occur. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), birth defects affect 1 in 33 babies in the U.S. each year.

On the other hand, birth injuries affect 7 out of every 1,000 babies born in the U.S each year.

Another factor that distinguishes birth injuries from defects is how long it takes for symptoms to appear. According to the CDC, most birth defects are present at birth and are diagnosed within the first year of life. Many times, birth defects can be found during pregnancy through an ultrasound.

However, birth injuries are not often apparent immediately and may not be diagnosed until the first few years of life.

Despite these differences, birth injuries and defects do have some similarities. There are many types of birth injuries and birth defects, and those affected by either may suffer from a wide range of symptoms.

Common Types of Birth Defects

There are many types of common birth defects that affect a part of their body. These defects vary in severity.

Common birth defects include:

  • Abdominal defects (gastroschisis, omphalocele)
  • Blood clotting defects (hemophilia)
  • Brain defects (microcephaly)
  • Cleft lip or palate
  • Clubfoot
  • Congenital dislocated hip
  • Down syndrome
  • Ear defects (anotia or microtia)
  • Eye defects (anophthalmia and microphthalmia)
  • Esophagus defects (esophageal atresia)
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Heart defects (hypoplastic left heart syndrome, pulmonary atresia)
  • Muscle defects (muscular dystrophy)
  • Neural tube defects (spina bifida, anencephaly, encephalocele)
  • Skull defects (craniosynostosis)

Birth defects can affect any part of the child’s body. Depending on the type and severity of the birth defect, some children may experience lifelong impairments caused by the defect.

Causes of Birth Defects

One of the main differences between birth injuries and birth defects are their causes. Birth injuries are often caused by trauma during the birthing process, whereas birth defects only develop when the child is in utero during pregnancy.

According to the CDC, most birth defects develop within the first three months of pregnancy when the baby’s organs begin to form. However, birth defects can still develop in the last six months of pregnancy when the baby’s tissues and organs are developing.

Unfortunately, the causes of most birth defects are unknown. The CDC states some birth defects can be caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental (outside) factors. Researchers are still continuing to study how these factors can lead to birth defects.

Some factors linked to causing birth defects include:

  • Alcohol use, drug use, and smoking during pregnancy
  • Certain infections (Zika virus, cytomegalovirus, rubella, varicella, etc.)
  • Having a fever of over 101 degrees due to heat exposure during pregnancy
  • Maternal medical conditions such as diabetes or obesity
  • Mother is over the age of 35 (advanced maternal age)
  • Use of certain medications during pregnancy

Further, if someone in your family was born with a birth defect, it can increase the risk of your child developing one as well. The CDC suggests seeing a clinical geneticist or genetic counselor to find out the likelihood of your child developing a birth defect during your pregnancy.

Birth Defect Prevention

Many birth defects have unknown causes and thus cannot be prevented.

However, there are certain steps mothers can take to reduce the chance of birth defects. It is important for mothers to attend regular prenatal check-ups to ensure their baby is healthy and identify any abnormalities in the fetus.

Some ways parents can potentially reduce the risk of birth defects include:

  • Avoid alcohol, drugs, smoking, and secondhand smoking
  • Avoid hot tubs, saunas, and overheating
  • Consult your doctor to make sure any medications you are taking are safe during pregnancy
  • Ensure medical conditions are under control before becoming pregnant
  • Get immunized as recommended by your doctor to prevent certain illnesses
  • Take 400 mcg of folic acid supplements every day one month before pregnancy and throughout the entire pregnancy
  • Treat fevers higher than 101 degrees with acetaminophen

Next Steps for Birth Injuries and Birth Defects

If you believe your child is showing signs of a birth injury or a birth defect, be sure to consult a doctor. Although many birth defects are diagnosed before the child is born, some may not be apparent until later on.

Your doctor will be able to determine if your child’s condition is a birth defect or injury. Since the symptoms of birth defects and birth injuries are often different, doctors will be able to make a diagnosis in order to get your child the treatment they need.

Medical professionals who do not uphold a certain standard of care during the delivery process may cause preventable birth injuries, but not birth defects.

If you believe your child is suffering from a birth injury caused by medical negligence during childbirth, you may be able to take legal action.

Get a free case review today to learn if you qualify to get legal help.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
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