closeup of baby feet on a blanket

Chemical Birth Defects: What Causes Them?

People often confuse birth defects with birth injuries and regard the two as one and the same. This is not the case. Birth injuries and birth defects are two distinct types of phenomena – while both can impact a child’s health and wellbeing, they are acquired in separate ways.

A birth injury is almost always sustained when a medical professional negligently harms a baby during labor or delivery. Birth injuries can include broken bones, hypoxia (lack of oxygen), brain injuries, and other such conditions. Negligence is an important factor because it implies a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional acted in a manner that contradicts their training and experience.

Birth defects, on the other hand, can result as consequences of many factors. A birth defect can come from an unfortunate genetic or biological anomaly, or because the child was exposed to toxic substances in utero. In the latter case, anything from drug use (alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics) to prescription medicine and even a mother’s exposure to chemicals at home or work can affect how a child develops in the womb. It’s even possible for a child to develop a birth defect as a result of the father’s exposure to toxic substances.

How Common Are Birth Defects?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 120,000 babies are affected by birth defects each year. That total represents a rate of nearly one affected child for every 33 births in a year. Birth defects run the gamut from mild to severe and may be visibility noticeable, exist internally, or present as a chemical imbalance.

As previously stated, birth defects can be the result of genetics or events that occur while the child is still developing. According to the Cleveland Clinic, however, nearly 10 percent of all birth defects reported each year can be attributed to environmental factors that include radiation, infection, drugs, certain medications, and toxic substances.

Toxic Substances That Can Cause Birth Defects

A fetus can develop a birth defect after exposure to toxic substances that come in contact with the mother. Sometimes exposure to these substances can affect sperm, establishing a paternal link for toxic substance birth defects.

A person’s employer has a duty to protect them from exposure to toxic substances that could contain teratogens. A teratogen is any factor that can adversely affect a child’s development in the womb – particularly by producing an abnormal structure or function, stunting growth, or even causing death.

There are many toxic substances that can cause birth defects, these are just a few:

  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated hydrocarbons
  • Chlorine
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone
  • PCBs
  • Pesticides

A mother or father’s exposure to any of the substances above, as well as others not mentioned, can cause mild to severe birth defects in their children. Exposure to toxic substances can occur as a result of one’s employment, dwelling, or use of certain products.

Birth Defects & Prescription Drugs

Some prescription drugs are teratogenic, which means continuing to use a drug prescribed by a doctor during pregnancy can adversely affect the development of a fetus. Not all prescription medicines carry this risk, which makes it important to consult with a doctor to protect one’s health as well as the health of a developing child.

There are significant ethical concerns for designing drug trials that purposely expose pregnant women – and thus their children – to substances with unknown consequences for fetal development. It’s for this reason that the effect of certain prescription drugs on fetal development isn’t completely understood. That said, many medications have been identified as teratogenic and should be avoided during pregnancy.

Some prescription medications linked to birth defects include the following:

  • Accutane
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin and tetracyclines)
  • Antimetabolite
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Dolutegravir (an HIV antiretroviral drug)
  • SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
  • Valproate (anti-seizure drug)
  • Zofran

What Should I Do If My Child Was Born with a Birth Defect?

If your child was born with a birth defect as a result of exposure to a toxic substance, another may be liable. Employers have an obligation to warn their employees of a potential exposure to toxic substances. They are also responsible for taking measures that mitigate employees’ potential exposure to toxic substances.

Doctors prescribing medications are also responsible for explaining all of the known potential side effects and advising a patient on what to do if she is already on a prescription drug and becomes pregnant. Drug manufacturers, particularly those of over-the-counter medications, may also have a responsibility to provide notice for the potential for birth defects.

Any of the parties described above, as well as others, could be held liable if a birth defect resulted from chemical exposure. We at McNabola & Associates, LLC can help parents fight for the compensation they and their children deserve if someone else’s negligence contributed to an avoidable birth defect caused by exposure to a toxic substance.

For more information, reach out to us online or call (312) 888-8700. If we can support your claim, you don’t owe us any payment unless we help you win a recovery.