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Birth Defects: The Leading Cause of Infant Death

Heart disease has long held the unpopular designation as the No. 1 killer of Americans. But this is only true when we consider the nation as a whole.

Among infants, the leading cause of death is not premature birth or sudden infant death syndrome. It is birth defects, and they account for roughly 1 in every 5 infant deaths.

chartAccording to 2006 statistics from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, about 3% of babies, or about 1 in every 33, are born with a birth defect. They range from the well-known—Down’s syndrome, which affects more than 6,000 babies annually—to the obscure, such as common truncus, a heart defect affecting only 300 babies each year.

In all, babies born in America in 2006 faced a mortality rate of about 6.7 deaths per 1,000 births. That rate dropped to 6.0 per 1,000 in 2012, according to estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency.

Other Developed Nations Ahead of the Game

America’s infant death rate ranks well below that of many third-world and developing nations, but it pales to nations like Japan—2.2 per 1,000, according to the CIA—or Sweden, at 2.74 per 1,000 births.

Additionally, portions of the U.S. substantially exceed the nation’s average. In South Carolina, for example, the mortality rate is 7.4 per 1,000 births, according to an article in The Post and Courier. As is true elsewhere in America, birth defects are the most common cause of those deaths.

Dr. Scott Sullivan, director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, told the newspaper:

“The simplest, most direct thing we can do is get early prenatal care and to take folic acid, which has been shown to reduce to instance of spinal defects and brain defects. That is the number one thing we can do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fix the whole problem.”

That’s partly because research suggests the problem is more complex. Studies have indicated that pre-natal expose to certain medications, including popular anti-depressants, can increase the risk of birth defects, sometimes dramatically.

Prescription Drugs Can Harm Unborn Babies

Research links the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor anti-depressants (SSRIs) like Zoloft, Celexa, Paxil and Lexapro during pregnancy to an increased risk of defects of the heart, skeleton, brain and more. For some defects, the risk is increased only slightly. Others have a risk that is increased more than 6 times, according to studies.

Expecting parents—and all of us—need to know about these dangers if we are to change our nation’s infant death statistics. We all need to do our part—including the companies that sell the SSRIs linked to these deadly birth defects.

Contact us if your baby was born with a defect you think was caused by an anti-depressant. We can help.


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