While different birth defects have different causes, some of these causes remain unknown. And so January has been declared National Birth Defects Prevention Month – a time when nurses and health promoters raise awareness and teach people more about birth defects, the causes and how to prevent them.

Recent statistics show that as many as one in 15 babies in South Africa is affected by birth defects, with up to 70% of birth defects being treatable or preventable.


According to professional nurse Nosisa Mdunyelea from Ntabankulu Health Center in the Eastern Cape,  some of these birth defects will be extremely minor, while some can mean big problems.

“Some families often have babies with an extra small finger on the side of their hand, which is a minor thing. A bigger problem is when the baby’s spinal cord doesn’t develop normally and the resulting birth defects can cause the baby to be paralysed,” she said.

Mdunyelwa said there were many causes of birth defects. “While some birth defects are caused by genetics, others can be caused by environmental exposure such as a mother’s medical condition when it involves something like diabetes or an infection,” she said.


Pregnant women who are at a higher-than-normal risk of having a child with a birth defect are those who lack folic acid, drink excessively, smoke, use drugs, take heavy medication or who suffer an infection.

Mdunyelwa said health care providers diagnose birth defects in babies through prenatal screenings. A diagnosis of a birth defect will depend on the specific problem suffered by the mother. She said pregnant women were advised to stop drinking and to be careful of any medicines they take.

The National Birth Defect Prevention Programme encourages women to make healthy choices that increase their chances of having a healthy baby and to prevent defects by avoiding harmful substances, choosing a healthy lifestyle and talking to their doctor. – Health-e News.

An edited version of this story was published by Health24.