Also known as “congenital abnormality”, a birth defect can be defined as a health problem or a physical abnormality, which can be mild or severe. While some birth defects are life-threatening, others can be treated with medications. According to the Boston Children’s Hospital, the most common birth defects are heart defects, cleft lip/palate, Down syndrome and spina bifida.
Women who are pregnant or those planning to become pregnant must have a clear understanding regarding birth defects and take steps to prevent these. Awareness about them will help you give your baby a healthy start in life. CDC reports that birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year.
The National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) created with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1997 observes January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Such a month raises awareness about the importance of preventing birth defects during pregnancy. The theme for 2020 is “Best for You. Best for Baby.” The NBDPN is committed to the primary prevention of birth defects and improvement of outcomes for children and families living with birth defects.
Though all birth defects cannot be prevented, women can increase the chances of having a healthy baby by reducing their risk for getting infections before and during pregnancy.
CDC recommends these tips to prevent birth defects.
Reach a healthy weight before getting pregnant
Being underweight, overweight or obese can increase the risk for serious birth defects and other pregnancy complications. Make sure to reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant by staying physically active and eating a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats and oils. Also, work out to get medical conditions like diabetes and blood pressure under control.
Avoid harmful substances during pregnancy
Avoid consuming alcohol, smoking or taking addictive drugs during pregnancy. You also need to be careful with harmful exposures at work and home. Quitting smoking will provide a healthier environment for your baby. Drug addicts must consider counseling, treatment, and other support services from a healthcare provider before getting pregnant. Opioid use during pregnancy can also affect women and their babies.
Learn about all vaccines including flu-shot
Vaccines are crucial to protect you as well as your developing baby against serious diseases. Your doctor will recommend a flu shot and whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy to help protect yourself and your baby. While the flu shot can be taken before or during pregnancy, whooping cough vaccine needs to be taken in the last three months of each pregnancy.
Daily intake of folic acid
It is recommended to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is a B vitamin that, if taken before and during early pregnancy, can help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs), which are major defects of the baby’s brain and spine. January 5-11, 2020 is also observed as Folic Acid Awareness Week, to increase awareness about the role folic acid plays in the prevention of congenital disabilities.
Take advice from your healthcare provider to stop or start a new medicine
Schedule a medical checkup and talk to your doctor about any medicine you start or stop. Along with discussing all medications, talk about your family medical history as well. Creating a treatment plan for your health condition even before becoming pregnant can help keep you and your developing baby healthy.
The NBDPN Education and Outreach Committee has developed materials and resources to assist state program staff and others interested in promoting birth defects prevention during this Birth Defects Prevention Month.