No one wants or expects their future offspring to be anything short of perfect. But quite often birth-related issues arise and put an end to that dream before it has a chance to become a reality. A birth defect occurs in approximately one in every 33 live births or every 4.5 minutes across America. Unlike most birth injuries that occur during or after delivery, birth defects occur in utero–in the womb. In most cases, birth defects aren’t easily controlled or even discovered until they’ve already developed. They may be chromosomal irregularities, development delays, or results of undiagnosed or untreated infections. In those cases, the birth defect is almost a non-preventable situation. However, research has also discovered a link between birth defects and specific pregnancy-related pain medications. But how can pain medications increase the risk of birth defects?
Link Between Pain Killers and Birth Defects
The link between pregnancy medications/painkillers and birth defects has been established since the 1970s. But doctors continued prescribing them due to the weakness of the link at the time and lack of viable alternatives. The National Birth Defects Study, however, re-established the link and made it far clearer. This extensive national study measured the data of almost 50,000 pregnancy cases between 1997 and 2011. The conclusion was that approximately 3% of live births in America include some form of birth defect, and those defects account for 20% of infant fatalities. Most defects are hard to establish root cause, so an intense study of this magnitude was essential to discover a potential link in pregnancy abnormalities.
In pregnancies that did develop some form of defect, 3% of mothers admitted they used specific prescription pain medications while pregnant. Heart defects, including hypoplastic heart syndrome, were the most common defect risks during the study. These conditions often require surgery and ongoing treatment for survival. Spina bifida was linked to pregnancy painkillers during this study. Other concerns such as congenital glaucoma, congenital hydrocephaly which can be an indicator of mental retardation, and gastroschisis which is where the baby’s intestines grow outside the body were also linked to specific pregnancy painkillers.
Birth Defect Risk Factors and Painkiller Connections
Birth defects can occur for a number of reasons and they’re usually out of the parents’ or medical professionals’ hands. Genetics, chromosomal abnormalities, and unexpected viruses are often the causes. However, maternal illness and diet, type and dose of medications, the fetal stage at the time of drug exposure, and the individual fetal response to the medication all factor in as well. Alcohol, stimulants, high doses of Vitamin A, certain antibiotics, some hormones, and specific prescribed medications are linked to birth defects. But powerful opioid painkillers are common risk factors as well.
Codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are often prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain. But they’re so addictive that female overdose fatalities soared 400% over the past decade. Over one-third of women on Medicaid between the ages of 15 and 44 and over a quarter of the age group on private insurance received prescriptions for opioid painkillers between 2008 and 2012. Health officials have raised alerts after discovering a solid link between the medications and birth defects, primarily heart defects. Newborns who were exposed to such strong medications in the womb may also experience intense withdrawal symptoms after they’re born. If your child is in danger due to a medical mistake or negligence, you may need to discuss options with a birth injury attorney.