FAQ about birth defects
Most birth defects occur by chance and do not have an identifiable cause. The vast majority of problems with a baby's development are not related to any specific activity of the pregnant woman. Some abnormalities have an underlying genetic cause. In other cases, exposures during pregnancy may be a contributing factor such as drinking alcohol, consuming other recreational drugs, some prescription medications, occupational exposures, infections and radiation.
Planning your pregnancy and taking folic acid supplementation for three months before conception and throughout the first trimester will reduce the risk of a neural tube defect such as spina bifida. Ceasing alcohol and quitting smoking before conception are also important to optimise the health of your baby. Seeing a doctor to review your own health, including medications, vaccination status and your weight will also give your baby the best start in life.
If a fetal abnormality is detected on ultrasound, regular assessment with ultrasound may be required to check the baby's growth and development. An amniocentesis may be discussed if there is a suspected chromosomal/genetic or infectious cause. In some conditions, a fetal MRI scan may be helpful. These scans are all safe in pregnancy.
The 20 week ultrasound is also called the fetal morphology scan. It checks your baby's growth and development and can detect many major structural abnormalities before birth. The most common types of structural abnormalities include heart abnormalities, cleft lip and palate, clubfoot (talipes), and abnormalities of the brain/spinal cord (eg spina bifida). The 20 week ultrasound will also check the position of the placenta and the length of your cervix (the neck of the womb).