When Your Baby Has a Birth Defect
When a baby is born with a birth defect, parents may need help moving forward. Here's help taking those first few steps.

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Picture of baby girl When Your Baby Has a Birth Defect

The first thing many new parents do when their babies are delivered is to count their child's fingers and toes. "Perfect!" is the joyful observation in most cases. Some parents will discover, however, that their infant has been born with a birth defect. The news can be difficult to take in.

In the United States, 1 in every 33 babies is born with a significant birth defect. It may be recognized immediately at birth, or not for several more months or years. Birth defects cover anything from Down syndrome or deafness to a physical deformity or digestive disorder.

If your child has been born with special needs, you will want to learn what medical issues or lifestyle challenges you'll need to address. Your doctor can help you put together a team of specialists to evaluate your child and create a treatment plan. For some children, surgery or medication might be recommended right away. Other parents will be told to "wait and see" as their infant grows.

Social workers can link parents with support groups, educational resources, counselors, financial aid options, home health care and other needed services.

Take care of yourself
While you focus on your child, don't ignore your own feelings. Allow yourself to feel sad about the loss of the healthy child you were expecting. It's typical to feel overwhelmed and anxious about how to care for your child. You may also feel shock, numbness, disbelief, guilt, anger, sorrow, worry and fear. Talk to your doctor or a counselor if these feelings are very strong or overwhelming.

Other parents offer this advice:

  • Tell family and friends exactly what kind of help you need. You may need someone to help you with grocery shopping, offer a sympathetic ear or babysit another child.
  • Enjoy your child! You can still have fun playing, holding, hugging and watching for first smiles or other milestones.
  • Educate yourself about your child's condition. Ask your doctor questions, read articles and books and network with other parents coping with similar issues.

Finding support
Family members and friends will take their cues from you. If you hide your pain, they may assume you don't want to talk about it. When you are ready to share your feelings, keep in mind that some people will be of greater comfort than others. You may find that some friends or relatives are too uncomfortable to offer supportive words or may unknowingly make an insensitive comment.

Many parents join support groups to meet others who are facing the same or similar challenges. You can often get meaningful encouragement and solid practical advice from people who know firsthand what you are going through.
By Eve Glicksman, Contributing Writer
Created on 01/26/2007
Updated on 07/12/2012
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Birth defects.
  • National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities. Finding help for young children with disabilities (birth-5).
  • KidsHealth.org. When your baby has a birth defect.
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