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What you should know about birth defects

Birth defects are a growing, heartrending problem!
Yet birth defects need not be!
It is time we examined the practical precautions
that make for normal, healthy children.


I'M SORRY — "I've got bad news for you," the cautious doctor told the new parents. "Your new son, as he grows up, will suffer from mental retardation."

What more heartrending, tragic news could a new father or mother have brought to them?


A Growing Tragedy

How many thousands of parents have heard — "Your son is born blind . . . or deaf . . . or crippled . . . or mentally retarded. There is nothing medical science can do. I'm sorry."

Every year in the United States, these or similar tragic words resound in the ears of parents of about 250,000 children who are born with birth defects. These children can't see, or can't hear, or are physically crippled in one way or another. Or they are mentally retarded.

Said Dr. Kenneth A. Berkaw, chief of pediatrics at the Harriman Jones Medical Clinic of Long Beach: "One out of every 14 babies in the United States is presently born defective."

Why? Is it natural to suffer from a birth defect?

Birth defects directly affect one family in ten in the United States! Every year half a million babies are killed outright by congenital defects before they are born. A quarter million survive to be born with significant defects. And of these, 60,000 — children and adults — die annually from birth deformities!

The only plague striking more Americans yearly is heart disease! Birth deformities are the second greatest destroyer of life in the United States!

Every two minutes, a baby is born with a serious defect in the United States — or 700 every day!

Why? What are the chances, if you are a prospective parent, of YOUR baby being defective? What can you do to PREVENT defects? You can lessen the odds ! There are important steps you can and SHOULD take to prepare for healthy children.

But first, notice the staggering, overwhelming facts.


Staggering Statistics

You don't often hear much about birth defects. They are a silent, often hidden plague stalking thousands of families yearly. No one likes to talk about them. They are too personal, too heartrending, too — well, you might almost say — embarrassing!

Authorities estimate that there are in the United States 1,375,000 children under six who are victims of birth defects or congenital deformities. More children are hospitalized for birth defects than for all infectious diseases combined ! Born seriously handicapped, these children spend six million days a year in hospitals, at a cost of over $180 million.

More than 300,000 babies are born premature every year — they have two to four times as many serious birth defects as full-term infants. Premature birth is connected with 44 percent of all infant deaths!

Investigations of more than 21,000 births in New York City, Hawaii, and England, indicate that at least 7 percent of the live-born have structural or functional defects, fewer than half of them evident at birth.

Other specialized studies indicate this figure may be too conservative. One study reported 11 percent musculoskeletal defects alone; another found an incidence nearer to 14 percent.


"The Eleven Million"

  10% of all births are either dead, damaged, or defective.

  One out of every 16 (7%) has one or more major birth defects.

  A single birth defective child could cost a family more than $500,000 during a life span.

  Many defects — around 18% — are hidden and create problems later in adult life.

It is reliably estimated that 11,000,000 Americans have one or more serious congenital defects.
Here is a rundown of the major ones:

  3,000,000 mentally deficient

  1,000,000 congenitally crippled

  500,000 blind or nearly blind

  750,000 deaf or nearly deaf

  350,000 with congenital heart defects

  more than 100,000 with speech defects


These eleven million are walking around today, fortunate to be alive! Another 4 million diabetics are often (though falsely} included among those suffering from congenital defects.

What CAUSES birth defects? Why are so many children being born severely handicapped — blind, deaf, retarded, disabled?

More than one thousand types of defects have been catalogued, ranging from those we have mentioned to clubfoot, cleft lip, defects of the heart and circulatory system, birthmarks, extra fingers and toes, hydrocephaly (water on the brain), mongolism, chemical defects, and many, many others.

According to Dr. James F. Glenn, one in every 1,000 newborn babies has an "inter-sex" problem. That is, the appearance of the external sex organs differs from the chromosomal, genetic, or hormonal sex makeup of the person.


The Tragic Toll

If you are a prospective parent, what would You give to make sure that your children will be NORMAL?

The words of scientists are not promising. At least, according to the words of Dr. Harvey Bender, associate professor of biology at Notre Dame, mankind is "horsing around" with life in a way that could cause almost EVERYBODY to be born with at least one or two serious defects in a few more generations!

Astounding? No!

Dr. Bender warned, "In the next century or so EVERYBODY could be expected to have one or more of these traits to pass on to his descendants."

Think of it — a whole world filled with the crippled, the halt, the lame, and the blind!

But, thank God, this dismal prospect will not come to pass! There is a way to HALT the trend. There is a way to safeguard children's health and the health of future generations!


The Major CAUSES

In the United States, about one birth in 14 is deformed in some way. Thorough statistics for other nations are hard to obtain.

However, a United Nations Report of a study of "congenital malformations" in 24 cities around the world conducted by the World Health Organization in 1966, found the following rates of malformed births in various selected hospitals:

The difference between U.S. figures and those of other nations is not as great as it at first seems. The World Health Organization report declares that following up a population of births shows that 1.5 to 2 times as many malformations may be discovered by 5 years of age.

Instead of the average rate of congenital malformations in the 24 cities studied being one in about eighty, the real total might be one in about forty or fifty.

Also, it must be noted that what other nations classify as "congenital malformations" does not necessarily include everything which are called "birth defects" in the United States. Generally speaking, a U. S. birth defect may be defined as a structural or metabolic disorder present at birth, whether genetically determined or a result of environmental influence during embryonic or fetal life. However, the international classification does not include all abnormal conditions of known congenital origin.

This fact alone, therefore, may account for some of the gross differences between the rate of birth defects in the United States and "congenital malformations" in other areas around the world. The congenital malformations refer essentially to noticeable structural conditions present at birth.

Scientific research has revealed several important causes for birth defects.

  Johannesburg, South Africa

one in 44

  Panama City, Panama

one in 48

  Belfast, North Ireland

one in 52

  Melbourne, Australia

one in 53

  Bogota, Colombia

one in 60

  Sao Paulo, Brazil

one in 62

  Mexico City, Mexico

one in 68

  Madrid, Spain

one in 75

  Zagreb, Yugoslavia

one in 78

  Alexandria, Egypt

one in 86

  Hong Kong

one in 87

  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

one in 95

  Santiago, Chile

one in 106

  Capetown,South Africa

one in 107

  Bombay, India

one in 116

The four major and direct causes of birth defects are: 1) DRUGS, including overdoses of synthetic vitamins, 2) VIRUSES, such as rubella which causes German measles, 3) RADIATION, such as X-ray treatment, and 4) faulty DIET.

Of these four causes, at least THREE are directly due to MAN'S tampering with nature, and interfering with the natural processes of the human body!

This fact is staggering — but needs to be thoroughly UNDERSTOOD!

Says an article in Science Teacher (January, 1968), "Drugs such as 'pep pills,' tranquilizers, sleeping pills, reducing pills, pain killers, LSD — even aspirin and vitamins — are under suspicion of having a disastrous effect on the fetus."

Many pregnant women seemingly are oblivious to the dangers of DRUGS on their unborn babies. A Texas team of researchers carefully observed 240 pregnant women from their first visit to a doctor until delivery or termination of pregnancy. They discovered the majority were exposed to one or more possible defect-causing agents, most of them exposures to drugs.

Of the babies born, nine had serious defects, and 17 had minor defects.

Parents are warned in an article in Good Housekeeping: "Environmental causes of birth defects include virus infections, X-rays and drugs which may affect development of the embryo" (October, 1967).

Numerous geneticists have come to believe that the multiple thousands of chemicals which have become part and parcel of our modern industrialized urban way of life, and part of our agriculture, may be causing damage to genes and to babies — more damage than atomic radiation or nuclear fallout!

Dr. Widukind Lenz, a West German geneticist on the staff of Hamburg University, said, "Formerly, many human biologists, taking a normal uterine environment for granted, used to attribute almost every malformation to heredity." Dr. Lenz asserted there is a need for a CHANGE IN THINKING, because "the chemical environment of man has greatly changed in recent decades due to the introduction of many chemicals."

What effect do all these new chemicals have on mankind — especially the chemicals in the air pollution, in our water and food supplies, pesticides, food additives, etc.? Said Dr. Lenz, "Almost nothing is known of the role of chemicals in the production of human malformations" (Today's Health Guide, AMA, pp. 481-482).

However, growing evidence indicates many chemicals Do have a serious effect. Said an article in Today's Health, "Not long ago, it was comfortably assumed that the mother's placenta formed a barrier effective in protecting the fetus from the passage of drugs and other agents from the maternal circulation to the circulatory system of the unborn child. It is now recognized, however, than MANY substances CAN and DO filter through the placenta" (Aug. 1966, p. 62, "Tracking Down the Cause of Birth Defects").

Among the suspect chemicals are drugs, narcotics, food additives, cosmetics, pesticides and many of the pollutants in our air and water.

Scientists have compiled a LONG LIST of suspects — potentially causative agents for birth defects. Among the list are such offenders as — the artificial sweetener cyclamate, 8,000 tons of which are consumed yearly by Americans in soft drinks, candies, and other food items; drugs, such as LSD, amphetamines, or even many "medically approved" drugs; fungicides and pesticides; or even caffeine.

Geneticists believe these chemicals flooding our environment may cause either breaks or mutations in the hereditary fabric of life — the genes and chromosomes.

Highlighting the new concern, Dr. Marvin Legator, chief of the FDA's cell biology branch, declared, "We know the dangers of radiation and worry about overexposure, but many drugs do the same kind of damage, and yet with drugs we have a void of information."

Warned Dr. Virginia Apgar, director of research for the National Foundation March of Dimes, "I don't wish to sound like an alarmist, but the number of new drugs is increasing today at a rate unimaginable a generation ago." She added, "Respected researchers believe that a number of these drugs might cause birth defects. The list of these suspect drugs is long" (Wall Street Journal, Mar. 6, 1968).

Another problem concerns drugs used to numb the labor pains of millions of mothers. Said Professor Arnold Beckett, head of the Department of Pharmacy at Chelsea College of Technology in London, infants are being "slugged" at birth with a higher concentration of narcotics than you would dream of giving a child of ten or twelve. He revealed that tests showed newborn babies had more of the pain-killing drug pethidine than the mothers for whom it was intended. Breathing difficulties resulted in some babies. Dangerous side effects can be measured only with each passing year.