Birth Defects: Answers to Your 13 Most-Asked Questions

10. Does smoking cause birth defects?
A woman who smokes while she is pregnant has a greater chance of having a premature (early) birth, a small baby or a stillborn baby. If the mother smokes while pregnant, there is also an increased risk of the baby dying during the first year of life. Some types of birth defects have been linked to the mother's smoking. Birth defects that may be increased when the mother smokes include: cleft lip, cleft palate, clubfoot, limb defects, some types of heart defects, gastroschisis (an opening in the muscles of the abdomen that allows the intestines to appear outside the body), and imperforate anus (there is no opening from the intestines to the outside of the body to allow stool or gas to be passed). Talk with your health care provider about ways to help you quit smoking if you are pregnant or can get pregnant.

11. What does a genetic counselor do?
A genetic counselor talks with you about birth defects and genetic conditions. Genetic counselors are part of the health care team and have special training to help families learn about birth defects and conditions passed down through a family. They can guide families to other resources for help. They also help families deal with feelings about how these conditions affect their family. People talk about both medical and personal questions during genetic counseling. Genetic counselors ask questions about family history and pregnancy history. They talk with families about tests used to find a condition and, if known, about how to prevent a condition.

There are many reasons to see a genetic counselor. Some people go because of a family history of a genetic condition. Others see a genetic counselor because they have trouble getting pregnant or because they have had several miscarriages or infant deaths. Some women may see a genetic counselor after learning the results of a blood test or because of their age. Still others seek genetic counseling to learn about the effects of being exposed to things like X-rays, chemicals, illness or drugs while pregnant.

12. Where can I find a clinical geneticist or genetic counselor?
Your best source is your health care provider. He or she will know about the resources in your area. Also, you can call the nearest university medical school or large medical center. To reach them, call the main telephone number and ask for "genetics." You can find a genetic counselor in your area at the National Society of Genetic Counselors Website.

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