As future parents, we all worry about the possibility of a baby born with a medical problem or a birth defect. Of every 100 babies born in Australia, about 2-3 have a significant birth or congenital defect. In addition to this, 2-3 or every 100 babies born will have a minor defect. Most of these babies have parents with no obvious risk factors, inherited disease or medical problems.
Common birth defects are; heart defects, chromosomal problems such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Neural Tube (brain and spinal cord) Defect, Cleft Lip and Palate, Club Foot, Congenital Hip Dislocation, Congenital Hypothyroidism, GIT Defects, Phenylketonuria, Cystic Fibrosis, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Causes of birth defects could be genetic/chromosomal, but many of them are due to unknown causes. most birth defects result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Although genetic factors are difficult to modify, environmental factors such as smoking, alcohol, drugs (such as cocaine and amphetamine) and poor nutrition can be avoidable. Certain infections (i.e: Rubella) can cause significant foetal damage and contact with people or children with any infection should be avoided.
A pre-pregnancy visit to your obstetrician or your GP is important. The doctor will review with you, the family history of both yourself and your partner to see if the risk of genetic conditions is increased in your baby based on this history. It is recommended that you take .05 mg of folic acid commencing 2-3 times a month before conception as well as continuing this during your first trimester.
You should be up to date with your vaccinations, mainly the rubella and hepatitis B vaccine. You should stop smoking and avoid passive smoking. Avoid alcohol all together or limit it to one standard drink per day. Do not smoke marijuana or take any street drugs. Avoid over the counter medicines and complimentary medicine during pregnancy. Avoid activities and places that cause hight body temperature (i.e: spas, saunas or heavy exercise).
You should also visit your doctor for regular antenatal checkups starting early on in the pregnancy.
Please discuss any personal, medical or surgical history (including current medication) with your GP. Ideally this should be done before becoming pregnant. Your GP should also be aware of your and your partner’s ethnic backgrounds as well as family history of any foetal abnormalities and mental retardation. If you had any problems in a previous pregnancy, please discuss it’s impact on your next pregnancy with your obstetrician or GP.
Rh factor is a blood group protein, Rh (D) which is attached to red blood cells. People who have this protein are called Rh positive, those who do not are Rh negative. On average 17% of the population is Rh negative. Foetal blood group is jointly inherited from both parents. For this reason, a fetus may have a different bloody type than it’s parents. When mother’s blood type is negative the baby is Rh positive, serious complications can occur with current and future pregnancies. If your blood group is negative, you will be given an Anti-D injection at about 28 weeks, again at 32-34 weeks and again after you deliver your baby. This is to protect your baby from the adverse effects the baby might have due to your negative blood group.
The Rh factor will not affect the pregnancy if: The mother is Rh positive and the baby is Rh negative or if the mother is Rh negative and the baby is also Rh negative.
To calculate your expected date of delivery from the last menstrual period simply add 9 months and 7 days (283 days) - This is based on a 28 day cycle. If you have a longer cycle (i.e: 35 days) add an additional 7 days.
A dating ultrasound should be preformed if you are unsure of your last menstrual period, have been taking contraceptive pills in the previous 3 months, or been breast feeding within 3 months of conceiving.