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Thursday, 28 January, 1999, 19:07 GMT
Abnormal births rise
Screening
Screening can pick up abnormalities in the foetus
The number of children born with abnormalities has risen slightly, official figures reveal.

However, the rate of serious abnormalities like Down's Syndrome and central nervous system disorders dropped.

Office for National Statistic figures for live births in England and Wales showed that the number of birth defects rose from 5,465 in 1996 to 5,505 in 1997.

For every 10,000 new births, 85.3 babies had abnormalities ranging from cleft lips to limb deformities. This compared to 83.7 per 10,000 in 1996.

The Down's Syndrome rate fell from 4.9 per 10,000 births to 4.4 per 10,000.

The number of babies born with central nervous system defects also dropped, from 3.7 per 10,000 in 1996 to 3.2 per 10,000 in 1997 - the 10th consecutive year of reductions.

The most common birth defects were:

  • Musculoskeletal deformities (for example, limb deformities);
  • Cleft lip and palate problems.

In boys, genital and urinary system defects were relatively common. Girls had more heart and circulatory problems.

Better reporting

Folic Acid
Folic Acid guards against spina bifida
Professor David Hall, a child health expert from Sheffield University, said the rise in deformities could be the result of better reporting by midwives and doctors.

"In several regions there has been quite an effort to jack up the reporting of abnormalities.

"Health professionals are now expected to report any kind of congenital abnormality, however minor."

Professor Hall said the drop in serious abnormalities such as Down's Syndrome and central nervous system defects could be due to two main reasons.

"Firstly, it is well known that if a woman takes Folic Acid before she conceives it reduces the chances of central nervous system defects like spina bifida," he said.

"That knowledge has gradually filtered down to the public, albeit incredibly slowly.

"Secondly, screening can pick up abnormalities. The programme has been under development for five to 10 years, and screening has gradually become more and more readily available to more and more women."

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