What are the types of birth defects and is it common in Singapore?
In Singapore, the incidence of birth defects is about 2 in 100 births. It can be broadly divided 2 groups:
1. Structural defects which involve the body parts. For example: cleft lip or palate, congenital heart conditions, deformed limbs or spinal defects.
2. Functional defects which is related to how a body part functions like brain developmental problems, hearing or visual deficiencies, metabolic disorders.
These defects can be caused by genetic or chromosomal abnormalities, which may or may not be inherited (e.g. Down syndrome).
It can also be caused by exposure to certain substances or medication during pregnancy.
Certain infections in pregnancy especially in the first trimester can also cause fetal abnormalities like Rubella (therefore most girls are vaccinated against rubella at 12 years old) and Cytomegalovirus (which may not present with any symptoms in the mother).
What are the ways to prevent birth defects before and during pregnancy?
Not all birth defects can be prevented. However, a woman can increase her chances of having a healthy baby by managing her health conditions and adopting a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy.
Here are some steps you can take to heighten the chance of delivering a healthy baby –
1. Have a healthy diet.
Ensure that you have sufficient folate( requirement is 0.4 mg/day) Folate deficiency can cause neural tube defects like spina bifida, anencephaly. Foods that are rich in folate include dark green vegetables. If you are obese, try to lose weight. Being obese, does increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes in pregnancy. There is also a slightly increased risk of heart defects in babies of obese mothers.
2. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol intake can cause a spectrum of disorders in the baby. They range from behavioural and learning disorders to structural defects of heart, kidneys and bones.
3. Avoid drugs
Drug abuse is associated with both structural defects as well as developmental issues.
Be careful with intake of medication. Always check with your doctor first to ensure that it is safe in pregnancy.
Certain infections like toxoplasmosis for example can be avoided. This is usually transmitted from contaminated cat droppings. Should you have a cat as a pet, you can get yourself screened to see if you already have the antibodies against toxoplasmosis. Otherwise you need to practice strict hygiene when it comes to food preparation.
By Dr Choo Wan Ling
Obstetrician & Gynaecologist
SOG – Choo Wan Ling Clinic for Women
6 Napier Road #08-14/15/16
Gleneagles Medical Centre
Tel: 6471 1233 Fax: 6471 1088