What are Fetal Conditions?

What are Fetal Conditions?

Fetal conditions, commonly referred to as birth defects, are a group of health problems during fetal development.

What is a Birth Defect?

A birth defect is an abnormal physical change or health problem that can occur during any stage of pregnancy and are present at birth. Birth defects range from mild to life-threatening, and occur in approximately three to four percent of babies. Birth defects are sometimes visible in the womb, while others may not be noticeable until after birth. Birth defects are sometimes referred to as congenital anomalies, congenital abnormalities, congenital conditions, or physical malformations.

Types of Fetal Conditions


Many types of fetal conditions affect different parts of the body. Some of the more common birth defects include:

  • Congenital heart disease causes problems with the structure or functioning of the heart present at birth. Heart problems are the most common type of birth defect.
  • Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that can cause developmental and intellectual disabilities and health issues such as heart or breathing problems.
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate are conditions that can be corrected with surgery soon after birth. A cleft lip is a split in the upper lip and a cleft palate is when the roof of the mouth does not form properly, leaving a split (cleft) that can reach the nasal cavity.
  • Club foot is a term covering a range of abnormalities in which a baby’s foot is twisted or in the wrong position.
  • Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that affects the spine, causing damage to the spinal cord and nerves.
  • Chest and lung abnormalities affect the growth, functionality, or structural integrity of the lungs which can affect a baby’s breathing.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) refers to a group of physical, behavioral, and intellectual conditions that can occur in a child as a result of exposure to alcohol while in the womb.
  • Craniofacial defects are birth defects that can affect the appearance and structure of a child’s facial and head bones.

Signs & Symptoms of Birth Defects


Some birth defect symptoms can be detected in the womb with prenatal ultrasound while others may not be noticed until birth. Symptoms of birth defects vary widely and can be different from child to child. Some symptoms include:

  • Deformed or missing organs
  • Abnormal head or face shape
  • Abnormal shape of hands, feet, or limbs
  • Brain damage
  • Difficulty breathing or eating
  • Slow growth
  • Joint problems

What Causes Birth Defects?


Many birth defects have no known cause. However, some factors are known to increase the risk of fetal conditions or directly cause birth defects including:

  • Alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • Tobacco or drug use during pregnancy
  • Family history of birth defects
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Advanced maternal age
  • Chromosomal or gene abnormalities



Not all birth defects are preventable and can, unfortunately, occur during any pregnancy. There are some preventative actions and behaviors that can reduce the likelihood of birth defects. These measures include:

  • Regular prenatal checkups
  • Genetic testing before pregnancy
  • Take folic acid
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs during pregnancy
  • Discuss any medications you are taking with your doctor
  • Learn about preventing infections during pregnancy
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Birth Defect Care

NewYork-Presbyterian’s team of Ob-gyns has years of experience in recognizing the signs and symptoms of birth defects early. We recognize the importance of a prompt and comprehensive treatment plan in giving your child the best possible outcome following a birth defect diagnosis. With many convenient locations and options for both in-person and virtual visits, NewYork-Presbyterian is the best choice for both pre and postnatal care for birth defects.