It’s no surprise that when doing research on all-things-baby during a pregnancy, you’ll come across some scary stuff. Birth defects are one of the scariest things an expecting parent can learn about, whether they know they have a greater risk for having a baby with Down syndrome because of their age, or they’re just reading up on all of the many types of congenital disorders that are out there. Gastroschisis is one such disorder that is becoming more common, particularly among younger mothers.
So, what is gastroschisis? If you’ve guessed that is has something to do with the stomach, or near it, you’ve guessed correctly. Gastroschisis is a birth defect of the abdominal wall in which a baby’s intestines are found on the outside of her body, exiting through a hole near her belly button.
This post will discuss the causes of gastroschisis, its symptoms and treatment, and the outlook for families who give birth to a baby with this particular birth defect.
What causes gastroschisis in babies?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gastroschisis occurs in early stages of pregnancy. During all babies’ development, their organs may develop outside their body at first, but then they usually return inside. In cases of gastroschisis, the muscles making up baby’s abdominal wall don’t form correctly, and thus a hole develops and allows the intestines and sometimes other organs like the stomach and liver to extend outside the body. The organs will usually be on baby’s right side of her belly button. The intestines are not protected by amniotic fluid when this happens, so they can become irritated and swell, twist, or shorten.
Some newer issues researchers have found that may increase the risk of a baby developing gastroschisis are:
- Being a younger mother. Teenage moms have been more likely to have a baby with gastroschisis than older moms.
- Using tobacco or alcohol. Both of these drugs have an effect on increasing the risk of gastroschisis.
What are the symptoms of gastroschisis?
Like spina bifida, a condition that is sort of its cousin, gastroschisis is apparent immediately at birth. It also can be diagnosed during pregnancy. Prenatal tests check for birth defects, but gastroschisis usually will show up on an ultrasound. A key identifying factor, outside of its physical appearance, is when a mother has too much amniotic fluid.
Gastroschisis looks like an omphalocele, but there is no covering membrane, so surgery is needed soon after birth. If baby’s intestine is damaged, she’ll have problems absorbing food.
How do you treat gastroschisis?
If gastroschisis is found during pregnancy, the mother will need careful monitoring to ensure baby develops as healthily as possible before birth. If it’s a small defect, surgery will be completed after birth to return the organs into the belly and close the hole. However, if there are many organs outside the body, surgery may be done in stages with the exposed organs covered with a silo until they are put back.
Because this condition can affect babies’ nutrition, they may need to be placed on an IV. Antibiotics also may be needed to prevent infection.
After surgery, babies with gastroschisis may experience some problems. Parents should contact their doctor right away if any of these symptoms occur:
- Fewer bowel movements
- Problems feeding
- Green or yellow-green vomit, or any vomit outside of normal spit-up
- Swollen belly
- Changes in behavior
Complications from gastroschisis may include bowel death, when intestinal tissue dies due to lack of blood flow or an infection, or difficulty breathing due to misplaced organs putting stress on baby’s lungs.
See also: Birth Injury vs. Birth Defect
What is the survival rate for gastroschisis?
About 1,871 babies are born each year in the United States with gastroschisis, according to the CDC. Babies don’t usually have any other birth defects, so that may help in terms of their survival rate, which stands at a promising 90% today.
A baby with gastroschisis has very good chance of recovery, so long as her abdominal cavity is large enough. Babies born prematurely may have more difficulties due to the fact that everything about them is a bit smaller.
It’s very important for mothers who have received a gastroschisis diagnosis during pregnancy that they give birth at a medical center experienced in handling these cases. It’s also vital to receive some sort of support after birth. Avery’s Angels is one such foundation that helps parents and attempts to raise awareness of this birth defect. Your doctor may be able to recommend others.
If your family experienced complications during your baby’s gastroschisis surgery that may have been due to a medical error or negligence, you also have resources. Contact Safe Birth Project today for a free legal consultation.