Lifestyle changes can reduce risk of birth defects
About 1 in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect. These abnormalities in the structure, function or metabolism of a baby’s body range from mild to severe and can lead to developmental or physical disabilities. Some of the most common are congenital heart defects, affecting about 1 in every 100 babies.
“The heart forms in the early weeks of pregnancy, and many things such as diet, life-style choices, environmental factors, health conditions and medications can play a role in congenital heart defects,” said Connie Motter, an Akron Children’s Hospital genetic counselor.
To help ensure a healthy pregnancy, every woman who is pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should take these steps to help prevent birth defects:
- Take a multivitamin with folic acid, a type of B vitamin. Folic acid can help prevent heart and other types of birth defects, such as spina bifida. Many occur early in the pregnancy, so it’s important to have enough folic acid in your body before you get pregnant. Every woman of childbearing age should take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.
- Don’t drink or smoke. Alcohol and tobacco use may increase the risk of having a baby with a heart defect. Alcohol use is also linked to serious learning and behavioral problems after a child is born. Since there is no known safe amount, it’s best to not smoke or drink at all if you are or are planning to be pregnant.
- Talk to your doctor about medicines you take. Some medications increase the risk of heart defects. On the other hand, not taking needed medication can be harmful for you. It’s best to talk to your doctor before you become pregnant to agree on a plan that is healthiest for you and your baby. Be sure to mention herbal and over-the-counter supplements.
- If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar. To keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, follow your doctor’s orders for diet, exercise and medication use.
Women with poorly controlled diabetes are at increased risk for having complications during pregnancy; babies with birth defects, including heart defects; extra large babies; and children with an increased risk for obesity and diabetes.
- Maintain a healthy weight before and during pregnancy. Obesity increases the chance your baby will be born with a heart defect or that you will develop diabetes, which is risky for you and your baby.
- Get vaccinated. Some infections during pregnancy, including rubella, can increase the risk of heart and other defects. Before becoming pregnant, check with your doctor to be sure your vaccinations are up to date. The flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women, so it’s a good idea to get a flu shot, as well.
- Know your family history. Many genetic factors increase the risk for birth defects. If someone in your family was born with a heart defect, or if you have questions about screening for birth defects and other inherited conditions, call the Akron Children’s Hospital Prenatal Genetic Clinic at 330-543-8792.
While birth defects remain the leading cause of death in the first year of a baby’s life, accounting for 1 of every 5 infant deaths, many defects can be successfully detected and treated before or after birth.
Call the Akron Children's Hospital's Fetal Treatment Center for more information at 330-543-4500.