January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. For 2020, the theme is “Best for You. Best for Baby.” This theme focuses on the overall health of mother and child. Being as healthy as possible before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of some birth defects. In support of families during National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the birth injury lawyer at Birth Injury Guide offers information about birth defects and tips for preventing them.
During the month of January, organizations across the nation boost awareness of birth defects, what causes them and how they impact families. Organizations like March of Dimes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) join forces with the National Birth Defects Prevention Network to help expectant parents understand what birth defects are, how often they happen and what can be done to reduce the risk. This is a great time for families who are expanding their family to learn about the risks of birth defects and possible ways to reduce them.
How Common are Birth Defects?
Birth defects occur in around one out of every 33 infants born alive. Birth defects occur as a result of illness, injury or congenital factors that impact development. Many of these defects cannot be foreseen or prevented. Others can be prevented through careful monitoring, a healthy pregnancy and proper medical care.
The common causes of birth defects include factors either genetic or environmental.
- Genetic mutations
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Epigenetic modifications
- Poor diet
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Folic Acid deficiency
- Gestational diabetes
- Drug use during pregnancy
- Teratogen exposure from tobacco or alcohol
- Exposure to chemicals (pesticides, PCBs, etc.)
Best for You. Best for Baby. Tips for Preventing Birth Defects
You may not be able to control congenital factors that impact your baby during crucial development stages. However, you can control your health and your environment. Here are some things that you can do to reduce the risk of your child developing birth defects:
Take Folic Acid Every Day
Folic acid deficiency can cause birth defects of the brain and spine, such as spina bifida. Taking a folic acid supplement every day reduces this risk. The CDC recommends women start a daily folic acid supplement if they are trying to conceive, or certainly once they confirm they are pregnant.
Some foods are high in folate, and are a good way to boost your folic acid levels. Examples include:
- Legumes (lentils, beans and peas)
- Leafy greens (spinach, arugula and kale)
- Citrus (grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime)
- Brussels sprouts
- Nuts and seeds
- Wheat germ
- Fortified grains
You can also boost your folic acid levels by taking a supplement. Many multivitamins and prenatal vitamins contain folic acid, but check the label to be sure you are getting 100% the daily value. If not, you may need to take an additional folic acid supplement.
Discuss Medications with Your Healthcare Provider
If you regularly take medication, you should talk to your doctor if you are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant. Your medication may work well to treat your condition, but many are not safe for use during pregnancy. In fact, many medications are known to cause birth defects.
Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about medication birth defects. This is especially important if you take medications, such as:
Update Your Vaccines
One of the more preventable causes of birth defects is infections. Women who have certain infections may expose their developing fetus to the infection. Keeping your vaccinations up to date can help reduce the risk of an infection harming your child. This includes standard vaccinations as well as getting a routine flu shot. The CDC also recommends getting a whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine if you are pregnant.
Infections that can cause birth defects include:
- Rubella virus
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Herpes virus
- Zika virus
It is also recommended that everyone in your household be vaccinated against these infections. Exposing a newborn to infections can cause preventable illness.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Doctors recommend maintaining a healthy weight regardless of your plans for parenthood. However, if you are planning to become pregnant, it is wise to maintain a healthy weight in advance of conceiving. That is because obesity increases the risk of birth defects and complications. Talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight is for you. Once you are pregnant, your doctor can help you eat healthy and stay physically active in a way that is safest for you and your baby.
Avoid Harmful Substances
There is a lot of debate about what you can eat, drink or take during pregnancy. With so much information available, it is best to err on the side of caution. Talk to your doctor about your health and what is safe for you. As a general rule, the CDC recommends the following:
- Avoid Alcohol – You may have heard that a glass of wine or a drink here or there won’t hurt you during pregnancy. However, the CDC warns that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause problems in a developing fetus.
- Avoid Tobacco – Smoking during pregnancy is extremely harmful to the baby. It can cause birth defects and complications. Smoking can also cause heart disease and cancer, so it is best to avoid tobacco during pregnancy. Avoid smoking and being around second-hand smoke.
- Avoid Drugs – Taking drugs during pregnancy can cause health problems for you, and can harm your unborn child. Even some over-the-counter and prescription drugs can be harmful. Talk to your doctor about any drugs you take and create a plan to ensure you and your baby are healthy.
By following these guidelines, you and your baby have the best chance of a healthy and happy life. Remember to discuss any concerns you have with your doctor. Addressing your concerns early on can help you proceed through pregnancy with confidence that you are healthy and well cared for.