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9 Common Congenital Conditions and How to Care for Them

by Vannessa Rhoades 15 Jul 2023
9 Common Congenital Conditions and How to Care for Them

Congenita anomalies or conditions, also known as birth defects, are a way of describing a number of different medical issues that developed during a baby’s gestation and are then present at birth. In some cases, a congenital condition may be difficult to spot, whereas in others, it’s immediately observable. Birth defects are relatively common, occurring in about 1 out of every 33 babies born in the United States each year. Many little ones born with a congenital anomaly are able to live long, happy, healthy lives. Let’s examine some of the most common congenital conditions present at birth and how to manage and care for them.

Reasons Why Congenital Anomalies Occur

Why do birth defects happen? They can occur for a variety of reasons – some unknown, others due to environmental and hereditary factors. They can also happen as a result of substance or chemical exposure or as a side effect of medication. Frequently, it’s a combination of factors. 

Many causes are out of a parent’s control and aren’t necessarily preventable. That said, there are a number of things a pregnant person can do to reduce their baby’s risk of congenital anomalies. These include:

  • Eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Taking folic acid supplements
  • Reducing chemical exposure 
  • Avoiding tobacco, secondhand smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs entirely
  • Following a prenatal care plan and regularly visiting a healthcare provider as scheduled
  • Properly treating any underlying medical conditions
  • Using medication sparingly and only as directed by your healthcare provider

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Common Types of Congenital Anomalies

A doctor can find birth defects during pregnancy, after your infant is born, or later during your child’s life. Physicians are typically able to detect a congenital anomaly within the first year of your child’s life. Not all birth defects are visible. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into two varieties: structural conditions and developmental conditions.

Structural congenital conditions

Structural birth defects are issues connected to your baby’s body. Depending on their severity, they may or may not interfere with their daily function. Here are a few of the most common structural congenital conditions:

    • Heart defects. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common types of birth defects, and babies born with these conditions are now living longer and healthier lives. The number of babies born with some types of mild common congenital heart conditions is increasing, while the prevalence of other types has remained relatively unchanged. The most common congenital heart condition is a ventricular septal defect (VSD).
    • Gut and stomach issues. For some infants, the stomach muscles don’t develop correctly, leaving a hole near the naval. This can result in organ exposure or development outside the body. Doctors can usually correct this condition shortly after birth.
    • Neural tube defects (NTDs). The neural tube forms the early brain and spine. NTDs happen when the neural tube does not close properly. These types of structural congenital conditions develop very early during pregnancy, usually before a person even knows they are pregnant. The two most prevalent NTDs are spina bifida (a spinal cord defect) and anencephaly (a brain defect). The CDC advises all women of reproductive age to get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day, in addition to eating a diet rich in folate, to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
    • Cleft lip/palate. A cleft or lip palate develops when the tissues that compose the mouth don’t come together properly. This can impact a child’s ability to talk and eat effectively. It typically needs an operation to avoid long-term issues and ensure your child can get the proper nutrition as they grow.

Developmental congenital conditions

These types of birth defects tend to impact how your baby’s body moves, how they sense their environment, or how they learn. Here are a few of the most common developmental congenital conditions:

    • Cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Individuals with CP have issues with movement and posture. Many also have related conditions such as intellectual disability; seizures; vision, hearing, or speech challenges; spinal changes; or joint issues. There is a wide range of types and levels of disability when it comes to CP which means symptoms can differ considerably. The primary indication that a child may have CP is a delay in reaching motor or movement milestones (like rolling over, sitting, standing, or walking).
    • Chromosomal abnormalities. Chromosomes are the parts of the cells that carry genetic information passed between generations. Twenty-three come from one parent, and twenty-three come from the other. The genes carried on the chromosomes define how the infant will develop, how they’ll look, and to some extent, how they will function. When an infant has too many or too few chromosomes, deleted chromosomes, or relocated chromosomes, their cells receive a mixed message on how to develop and function. A few examples of this type of anomaly include Down syndrome (too many), Turner syndrome (too few), Prader-Willi syndrome (deleted), or Smith-Magenis syndrome (relocated).
    • Hearing impairments. This happens when an infant is deaf or has a diminished ability to hear. Sometimes this impairment can be remedied with hearing aids.
    • Vision impairments. Some babies may have impaired vision. Not all congenital vision conditions result in blindness, though. These issues are often caused by abnormalities in eye shape and a deficiency of neural connections between the brain and eyes.
    • Muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy causes long-term deterioration of the muscles throughout your child’s body. Although they may go through development like a child without this condition, with time their muscles will become weaker and weaker. There are various types of muscular dystrophy that affect different parts of the body. 

Diagnosis of Common Congenital Anomalies

Some types of birth defects can be diagnosed during pregnancy via ultrasound, chorionic villus sampling (CVS), or amniocentesis. Blood tests may also offer helpful information concerning specific birth defects (like Down syndrome or spina bifida). While some treatments can be performed in utero to help your fetus develop properly, most congenital conditions are not curable. Early diagnosis can, however, assist new parents in preparing for their little one’s special circumstances. 

9 Common Congenital Conditions and How to Care for Them

How to Deal with Common Congenital Conditions

Learning that your little one has a birth defect can be painful to hear, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t have a caring, meaningful bond with your child. Education and connection can help you make sure you’re better prepared to care for an infant with a congenital anomaly.

  • Recognize and deal with your feelings about the situation. Give yourself the time and space to process what you’re going through. Shock, grief, anger, and denial are all normal. Working through your own emotions about the situation is essential in order to provide your infant with the best possible conditions for growth.
  • Learn as much as you can. Do your research. Talk to healthcare providers and specialists. Connect with other parents who have been through the situation. Ask lots of questions. The more informed you are, the better prepared you’ll be to care for your little one as they grow.
  • Connect with others. Ask your healthcare provider to direct you to resources for support. Finding a community of other families who are dealing with the same anomaly can help you feel more supported and hopeful. It may also help to connect with a mental health professional if you find yourself still struggling with the diagnosis.
  • Celebrate your baby. Caring for a child with a congenital condition can be overwhelming, particularly if your little one needs constant care or medical interventions. But remember, they’re still a child who should be celebrated. Play with them, offer lots of snuggles, and track their growth. Your child may have a different journey to adulthood, but it’s still a journey that matters.

The Takeaway

No parent wants to learn that there’s something wrong with their baby. While most congenital conditions aren’t preventable, you can take measures before and during pregnancy to minimize the risk of congenital anomalies. Many babies born with these issues can go on to have healthy, fulfilling lives. If you do receive a congenital condition diagnosis, remember you aren’t alone. Your healthcare team knows the challenges you’ll face and will share information about screenings, treatments, and other ways you can better care for your little one and help them reach their fullest potential.

Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. Please contact your health provider if you have any medical questions or concerns about your child or yourself.

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