Why Is This Birth Defect Affecting Black Babies?

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and one of the fastest rising birth defects among young black mothers is Gastroschisis (pronounced GAS-tro-SKEE-sis).

SOURCE: CDC (MODIFIED)

Gastroschisis is a defect where the infant’s intestines protrude outside of the body usually through an opening on the right side of the baby’s abdominal wall. The intestines being exposed are at risk of swelling and irritation from the amniotic fluid surrounding it in the womb.

“Gastroschisis has tripled, rising 263 percent, in the Black community.”

Genika and her boyfriend, Dajuane both age 16 gave birth to their son, King who was born at born at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “I first discovered King had gastroschisis when I was 18 weeks pregnant..,” said Genika. “I was told my baby had intestines outside the stomach because the outer wall of the stomach didn’t form properly, which left a hole.” Gastroschisis is diagnosed early in pregnancy during a routine ultrasound.

PHOTO: BIANCA R. (GRANDMOTHER)
Genika and baby King.

According to a report in Obstetrics and Gynecology (2013), gastroschisis has tripled, rising 263 percent, in the Black community. Pregnant Black women under the age of 20, are at-risk. “I never even heard of gastroschisis. No one I knew of had it. It wasn’t until I got further along in my pregnancy that I started to communicate with people about my son and realized two of my friends’ kids had the same condition,” said Genika.

Baby King shortly after birth.

This condition is corrected shortly after birth. “The doctor day-by-day gradually pushed his intestines back into his stomach [and] within three days, my son’s stomach was like new there was no stitching or anything,” said Genika. King stayed at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital hospital for seven months due to complications from gastroschisis. “My son started to have pain in his stomach. We were told [that] he had a blockage, so this time a surgery was performed and [the] doctor had to go inside and fix it,” said Genika. Many of the children with this birth defect have ongoing gastrointestinal issues.

The CDC reports that doctors don’t really know what causes gastroschisis. They think it could be a combination of genetics and environment. Doctors recommend that mothers don’t smoke or drink during pregnancy as this might increase the chance of a baby being born with gastroschisis and other issues.

There is a support group for parents with children who have gastroschisis called, Avery Angels. Avery Angels can be reached at their website AverysAngels.org.

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