January is National Birth Defects Awareness Month. If pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, learn how to reduce the risks.
Birth defects are conditions present at birth that may adversely affect an individual’s health by changing the body’s shape or functioning. They can affect general health, how the body develops or how the body works. They include heart defects, cleft lip or palate, defects of the brain or spine, nervous system disorders, vision or hearing problems, as well as degenerative and metabolic disorders, such as muscular dystrophy or hypothyroidism.
Some are minor and can be treated before or after birth with minimal long-term effects. Others are life-altering, causing mental or physical disabilities requiring long-term treatment and support, while still others are life-threatening.
In fact, for infants from birth to 12 months and children from 1 to 4 years, birth defects are the first and second most common causes of death, respectively.
“Many people don’t realize how common or serious they are, or how much they can impact quality of life,” said Connie Motter, certified genetic counselor at Akron Children’s. “In the United States, a baby is born with a birth defect every 4 ½ minutes. That’s nearly 1 in every 33 live births.”
The good news is there are steps women can take to reduce their risk.
The health of both parents affects their risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Diet, lifestyle, environment, health conditions and medications can all play a role, so it’s critical to make healthy choices before becoming pregnant.
Studies recommend these 5 steps that women can take to reduce the risk of birth defects before and during pregnancy:
1. Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
Folic acid is very important because it can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.
2. Book a visit with your healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medicine.
There are often benefits to continuing treatment throughout pregnancy. Discussing a treatment plan before a pregnancy allows a woman and her health care provider to weigh the pros and cons of all options to keep mom and baby as healthy as
3. Become up-to-date with all vaccines, including the flu shot.
Having the right vaccinations, like the flu and Tdap vaccines, at the right time during pregnancy can help keep a woman and her baby
4. Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight.
Obesity increases the risk for several serious birth defects and other pregnancy complications.
5. Boost your health by avoiding harmful substances during pregnancy, such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
- There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy and its exposure can cause major birth
- Smoking during pregnancy can cause dangerous chemicals to damage the placenta and/or reach baby’s
- The opioid addiction epidemic has led to a sharp increase in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), premature birth and drug withdrawal in developing
Lastly, all women of childbearing age are advised to take a multivitamin every day, whether planning a pregnancy or not. Learn more in the below video.