Children with Disabilities: What Are Birth Defects & How to Prevent


Disability is never in the list of possible occurrences that you may expect in a child as you wait for him or her. It might also not be evident when they are born and learning later brings much pain and agony. You might wonder what to do and where to run if your child has a certain deformity even if it is the urge to misbehave. Since disability in children is a wide topic that needs a detailed address especially when individual parents find themselves in this compromising situation, this guideline will focus on the following for every parent out there:

  • What are birth defects?
  • Quick facts about birth defects?
  • When is disability likely to occur in children?
  • Various causes of disability in children
  • Disability diagnosis
  • How you can prevent birth defects

If you don’t see what you are looking for addressed in this article, we advise you to research about the specific disability. What is available here is for general knowledge purposes only but the details are still substantial to help you go further if you are already having a child with defects.

[Relevance: Children Learning Disability]

What Are Birth Defects?

A birth defect is a problem that occurs in the womb, as the baby is developing. They are functional abnormalities or structural changes present at birth causing physical or mental disability. Some may be fatal depending on the severity of the defect or the part of the body affected.

There are thousands of different congenital disabilities according to research. During the first year of life, they are the leading cause of infant mortality.

Quick Facts about Birth Defects

  • They are functional abnormalities or structural changes present at birth affecting any part of the body that causes physical or mental retardation. Birth defects are the highest cause of infant mortality.
  • Congenital disabilities have genetic and environmental causes (non-genetic). Genetic factors cannot be prevented and are mainly due to a mutation, change or a missing part of the gene.
  • Structural defects occur when a particular body part is malformed or missing. They include; cleft lip or palate; heart defects; neural tube defects; abnormal limbs such as clubfoot where the foot points inwards.
  • Functional defects occur when a body part does not work as it should. It brings about intelligence or development disabilities. They affect the nervous system, the brain, sensory problems, degenerative and metabolic disorders.

Congenital disabilities treatments vary by disorder.

When Is Disability Likely To Occur In Children?

After getting familiar with disability, we can look at some of the possible scenarios that can prevent you from having a normal child as per the anticipation.

1) Before birth

Harm could come to the child while in the mother’s womb. This is why prenatal care is essential to pregnant women. In the case of an infection or disease affecting the mother, it may also infect the baby. Nutritional deficiencies in the mother also subsequently lead to a flaw in the baby. This, in turn, may cause physical or mental disability.

2) During birth

Disability happens during birth

The delivery process could be faced by complications which sometimes cause harmful effects to the child. In an awkward delivery, oxygen supply to the brain can be blocked. This causes permanent damage to the nervous system of the brain or the spinal cord. The baby may become mentally deficient or physically disabled.

In other cases, the equipment assisting in the delivery could cause damage. For instance, the forceps used when delivering may apply too much pressure on the brain or nerves. Well trained doctors and nurses could prevent this kind of damage to the baby.

It is advisable to undergo delivery in a nursing home or hospital under the doctors’ and trained nurses’ supervision. It ensures that an emergency is well handled to avoid complications.

3) After birth

The baby may develop disabilities due to lack of proper care after being born. For example, there is a high probability the baby may go blind if his or her eyes are not washed using a 1% nitrate solution.

5) Nutrient deficiency

Nutrient deficiency in kids

The child gets very weak, physically, if not provided with the necessary nutrients. Lack of calcium causes malformation of the bones; lacking vitamin A in children causes blindness.

Iodine deficiency causes lack of hormone thyroxine which is necessary for healthy body growth. ‘Sukha rog’ is a condition that causes both physical and mental deprivation. Protein and energy deficiency are the primary causes.

6) Accident

Physical disability in children can be due to accidents. A child can be disabled in a road accident, rendered blind, deaf and dumb. The same effects can be brought about by administering the wrong medication, causing permanent disability.

7) Hereditary factors

Parents may pass on undesired genes to their baby. This disability causing genes can cause blindness, dumbness or mental retardation by birth.

8) Infectious diseases

The body’s immune power reduces when the child is under attack from contagious diseases. The child becomes prone to attack from other complications. Immunization is crucial as it protects the child from infectious diseases like mumps and polio. Polio can cripple a child while mumps leads to hearing impairment.

9) Affected endocrine glands

A child’s growth may be impaired if there is excess or deficiency of hormones. Physical and mental retardation may be brought about by a disturbance in the endocrine system. Grave’s disease the most common in hyperthyroid, where the thyroid gland is overactive, affects the eyes and the heart function.

Various Causes of Disability in Children

Often, doctors are clueless on the reason why disability descends on children if the cause is inbuilt but inheritance points the direct direction for those who share family history of early debility. The cause might be a problem with genes, environmental factors such as exposure to virus and chemicals or a bit of both. Before you go on to read about the causes, here is a few minutes video to visualize how disability becomes part of a child’s lifetime stress.

Environmental Causes

If certain infections (including toxoplasmosis) attack the mother while pregnant, the baby is susceptible to congenital disabilities. Other defect causing infections include chickenpox (varicella) and rubella. Luckily, most people are vaccinated against them, so the diseases are rare.

Babies whose mothers abuse alcohol during pregnancy may be affected by fetal alcohol syndrome. Congenital disabilities can also be caused by various medicines the mother might be using. Usually, doctors avoid some drugs during pregnancy, so it is always advisable for a pregnant woman to be frank with the doctor regarding her condition.

With the above short highlight, here are some of the environmental forces that can alter a child’s destiny to normality:

♠ Low standards of living and malnutrition

Poor people succumb to poverty which is considered as the immense cause of disability. They are frequently exposed to the hazardous environment and workplace. These areas are full of cramped households with small structures, inadequate hygiene, and with insufficient healthy meals and clean water, limited approach to proper education facilities and services. This makes them defenseless against diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and the severe disabilities thus facilitating the smooth spread of diseases from one individual to another.

[Related: Pregnancy Diet]

Some newborn babies born in harsh family condition are likely to have disabilities or even die during immaturity. Reasons could be as a result of improper ingestion of meals during pregnancy, or the mother was not well fed growing up as a child among others. In most cases, childhood experience for girls and boys is different regarding food portion where a girl gets lesser food to eat than a boy which should never be the case. In conjunction, she undergoes a slow growth rate and results in weak bones development which consequently may result in complications during delivering process especially when there are substandard healthcare facilities. When a newborn or a young kid does not get sufficient food to consume, it may lead to problems such as blindness, poor understanding, and struggle learning.

♠ Sickness

During pregnancy

Some of the diseases encountered during pregnancy apt to both physical and intellectual problems after infant delivery. Those ailments that are capable of causing congenital disabilities include German measles (rubella), which is the popular motive of deafness in a newborn child. Rubella is prevented through the administration of a unique vaccine to women. However, females are advised not to get pregnant within a period of one month after immunization.

Sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, HIV and herpes can are easily transferred from a mother to a child leading to severe birth deformity. Women are encouraged to get tested regularly and seek treatment to protect their expected child.

Childhood illness

Disability can also be as a result of sickness at a young age which is frequently associated with meningitis, measles, and polio. It is so crucial for a newborn to get complete immunization from a health service provider to protect themselves from this fatal diseases. In areas where Hansen’s disease like leprosy is common, children need to be analyzed beforehand to prevent infections.

♠ Poor healthcare services

Poor healthcare services

A proper health care service, when provided at the right time, can prevent many disabilities cases. Cerebral palsy is a congenital disability caused as a consequence of complications during labor pains and delivery. This disability can be avoided by providing well knowledgeable and skilled doctors or nurses who can handle any emergencies and diagnosed risks thereby preventing babies from sickening with avoidable disabilities. In many circumstances,  vaccines are not reliable, or it is expensive for poor people in rural areas. Nonetheless, most of the times they are not sufficient for a larger group.

♠ Nuclear explosions

In late 1979 at Three Mile Island in the USA, simultaneously, in 1986 at Chernobyl in Ukraine there were atomic explosions at the plants which resulted to many people exposed to vast amounts of radiation. This was also experienced in 1945 when the USA dropped nuclear bombs on Japan which created a widespread of destruction and death due to exposure to radiation.

The victims from nuclear accidents not only suffered from different types of cancers like the growth of tumors in various parts of the body, particularly in the thyroid gland or leukaemia but also die an early death. In most areas affected, children are born with learning hurdles such us down syndrome has increased in number over time.

♠ Unnecessary medication and injections

Unnecessary medication and injections

Well prescribed drugs and doses, when administered accordingly like some vaccinations, are very vital for body protection against common disabilities. Nevertheless, excessive irrelevant use of injections breeds sickness, prime deaths and millions of disabling victims, mostly children.

Using unsterilized needles and syringes promote transmission of germs such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Contaminated injections and some other injected medicines can cause dangerous allergic reactions, infect, and deafness to the unborn child, latter, can result in paralysis, spinal cord damage or repose.

Over indulging injectable drugs, for instance, oxytocin (speeds up childbirth) eventually induce breathing issues due to inadequate oxygen concentration hence premature brain damage. Alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking throughout pregnancy destroy infant rate of growth.

♠ War and conflicts

In 20th century battles, the use of more dangerous weapons such as nuclear bombs costed more to the ordinary citizens than soldiers. Explosives can provoke both physical and mental injuries mostly leaving them deaf, blind or disembodied. In extremes cases, wars destroy homes, schools and other social amenities, therefore, increasing the number of disabling victims, poverty and spread of diseases.

♠ Dangerous working environment

Working long hours without rest can lead to major disasters, especially, women who work in factories, mines sites, and crop plantations. Factory work involves the use of dangerous machines, and they are exposed to chemicals that get them at high risks of accidents and can easily cause disability. However, reportedly some women face harsh supervisions which include violence and threats during work and demonstrations.

In other minor cases, many women and children are most likely to involve themselves in cuts, burns drinking toxic chemicals, falls and road accidents.

♠ Poisoning from harmful substances

Mishandling of poisonous substances like lead in paints, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals result in disabilities in adults and infants. Employees more than once use chemicals on the fields without proper training which is then released into the air causing air, water and soil pollutions, therefore, bringing permanent disabilities.

Genetic causes

genetic causes that lead to disability

A person’s unique characteristics are determined by genes contained in the chromosomes found in every body cell. In the process of conception, the child takes one of each pair of genes composing one of each pair of chromosomes inherited from each parent. An error in this crucial process could lead to a baby being born with too few or too many chromosomes or with damaged chromosomes.

Down syndrome is the most popular among chromosome caused birth defects. It is due to an extra chromosome in the child. Genetic disorders could happen when both parents pass along a faulty gene or when only a single parent passes along the gene for the disease. They include Marfan syndrome and Achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism).

X linked genetic disorders such as haemophilia and color blindness are carried on the X chromosome. Boys get this chromosome from their mothers. Hence, genetic disorders can pass from mother to the boy child.

Developmental problems: Possible causes

Infants are vulnerable to a wide range of defects, and some are in their system already by the time they are born. They could be having brain damage or incomplete development of body parts which provokes the usual cycle of childhood development.

Some of the issues that arise can be rectified after diagnosis. For example, the doctor could test for a rare case of metabolic disease during the early days after birth known as phenylketonuria, abbreviated as PKU. If you newborn possesses this condition, he or she could have mental retardation later in life. On the other hand, early treatment and getting the right diet promotes tolerable intelligence. Another cause of retardation during early stages of development is the congenital hypothyroidism, a rare but hazardous condition that needs early detection and remedy.

If your toddler has some underlying defect, it may not show soon after birth. Most parents start seeing the hitches in development after the doctor’s highlight. In the checkup that your child undergoes, the physician looks at the child’s behavior for clues about overall growth. Some screening tests can also be conducted later but still during childhood. The main aim will be to check for any possible signals towards future disability.

Some infants may appear normal at birth but show suffering later due to inadequate nurturing. If the environment causes the problem, it will be difficult to identify when compared to the inherent defects that lead to disability. Some of the things that a specialist can look at include:

  • Eating or sleeping disorders:They can either be inadequate or too much. The overall quality and quantity of how you take care of your child can influence how your infant regulates their sleeping and eating pattern and intake.
  • Physical symptoms:They can be frequent diarrhea, vomiting and skin rash.
  • Abnormal growth:This involves the weight and height of the child about their age. An infant may appear smaller than usual due to lack of loving and comforting nurture from the parent regardless of how much food they take. If the doctor sees that the care is all right, the next thing to check is if there are suppressed growth factors in the child’s brain.
  • Detected delay of specific aspects:They include the ability to talk, locomotion, intelligence level, overall learning ability, self-realization and the playing capacity.

More often than not, if the child lacks the necessary nurturing recipe, they could have medical or even psychological issues. For example, lack of a proper child-mother bond could render a slow or no thrive in behavior, and the relationship between parent and child becomes distorted. You could give it time if bonding did not arise automatically after birth. Mothers who had a C-section or a premature birth case can bond later with no problems at all.

You can never be a perfect human being. So, do not get worried if there are imperfections to how you raise your child towards normal and acceptable behavior. As the toddlers grow up, they have an inside intuition that guides them towards good behavior practices. It helps them resist the protest to behave otherwise and the environmental factors that propagate the urge.

If you are worried about certain aspects that relate to your child’s development, arrange for a discussion with a qualified physician. You may be inclined to disturb the doctor since it is time consuming and doctors are one of the precious commodities we have in life. If the doctor is unwilling to disclose what they see, go ahead and seek another professional’s advice.

Remember that you are in the quest of searching answers to troubling questions. Extra money might come in handy, but it is worth it if the doctor finally says what you did not expect and additional tips that will have a better guide than your overall parenting know how.

Disability Diagnosis

Disability Diagnosis before birth

Using prenatal tests, birth defects can be diagnosed way before giving birth. They are also used to determine if the mother has an infection or any harmful condition for the fetus. Parents and doctors can plan better for the future with the knowledge of the baby’s health problems beforehand.

Prenatal screening only identifies the possibility of the baby having a defect at birth. Some babies have been born healthy even after testing showed the presence of a congenital disability. If pregnant, consult your doctor for any tests he or she may recommend. It is important to know that most congenital disabilities can only be identified with certainty after birth.

With the parent’s consent, the baby is subjected to screenings as a newborn. This is to determine the birth defects that may need treatment. Conditions tested for vary with the area. Some general abnormalities that are screened include; phenylketonuria (PKU), sickle cell, congenital hypothyroidism and approximately 30 other conditions. Parents should seek to know if the tests run on their baby should be from the hospital nursery or health care providers.

Parents with concerns about their baby having some unique congenital disabilities could have them tested. Before the child is born, the parent should consult their healthcare provider about those fears.

Here is a video composed of mothers who have hands-on experience in raising a child with disability.

How You Can Prevent Birth Defects

Preventing birth defects is hard. However, there are some tips a woman could follow before and during pregnancy that help lower risk of her baby having congenital disabilities.

Before pregnancy:

  • Your vaccinations should be up to date.
  • Confirm you don’t have any sexually transmitted infections.
  • You should start taking daily folic acid supplements before conception.
  • You should avoid unnecessary medicines and consult the doctor on drugs the child is taking.
  • You should determine if there are birth defects in one’s family history or if you are part of the high-risk group. If so, it is recommended meeting a genetic counsellor to establish the baby’s risk.

During pregnancy:

  • Eat a healthy diet and take prenatal vitamins.
  • You should avoid or stop smoking, drinking alcohol and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • All illicit drugs should be avoided.
  • You should get plenty of rest and enough exercise.
  • You should get prenatal care as early and regularly.

Disability Is Not Lack of Ability

Even with a child who has a special case, you don’t have to refrain them from getting access to social amenities and what keeps them comfortable and well engaged. They can still grow up to be who they want to be. Remember that pursuing their strengths is one of the major pulls you will have to bear so that they child does not gather feelings of neglect, feeling incapacitated, lack of engagement among other things that might trouble their mind. After some time, the cover of love, care and protection you give to them just like the rest of the kids will pave way for a better tomorrow despite the shortcomings.

As we finish, before you hit the comment box below, here is something to show you that it is not the end of the road.

Read More Topics:

Smart Guidelines to Help Prevent Allergies in Kids

Birthmarks & Hemangiomas in Children: Types, Causes & Treatment


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