One of the greatest fears of new parents is that of congenital anomalies, or birth defects. These anomalies can be structural or functional in nature; that is, a child can be born with a physical defect, or they can suffer from a defect in one of the vital bodily processes. Some of these defects can be identified before a child is born while others can only be detected after a child has entered infancy. Structural anomalies can be addressed with surgery either before or after a child has been born. Functional anomalies can be addressed with medical treatment beginning at an early age. Unfortunately, each year more than 300,000 newborns throughout the world die within the first four weeks of their life as a result of various birth defects. Those who survive can have a life marked with long-term disability, or there can be little to no impact on their daily functioning. The most common congenital anomalies are Down syndrome, a genetic defect, and structural defects in the heart and neural tubes.
Congenital anomalies can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetic factors and environmental issues. Socioeconomic and demographic factors can also play a role in the likelihood that a child will suffer from a congenital anomaly; nutritional deficiencies or insufficient access to prenatal health care, for example, can increase the likelihood that a child will suffer from a congenital anomaly. Infections such as syphilis or rubella can also contribute to an increased likelihood of congenital anomalies. Some congenital anomalies can be prevented through appropriate vaccinations, prenatal vitamins, and newborn healthcare, though there will always be a small measure of unavoidable risk.