January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Did you realize that 1 of every 33 babies will have some type of birth defect? Some of these birth defects will be very minor. For instance, some families often have babies with an extra small finger on the side of their hand. But, some birth defects can mean big problems like when the baby’s spinal cord doesn’t develop normally. This birth defect can cause the baby to be paralyzed.
Why do these birth defects happen? There are many causes. While some birth defects are caused by genetics like the extra finger I talked about above or the lung disease called cystic fibrosis; other birth defects can be caused by environmental exposures such as alcohol consumption, nutritional deficiencies like folic acid deficiency, and a mother’s medical condition such as diabetes.
Can we do anything to reduce this number? Well yes. We can’t prevent all birth defects but we can try to reduce how often they happen. Here is a list of suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
- Make sure you take a supplement with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day – even before you get pregnant. Timing before conception makes a great difference. Waiting until after you find out your pregnant may be a little too late.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs when you are attempting pregnancy and certainly after you find out you are pregnant.
- Practice good hand washing to prevent infections.
- See a health care professional regularly to identify and manage medical conditions that may lead to a higher risk of birth defects.
- Talk to a health care professional about medicine use (both prescription and over-the-counter medications) before you get pregnant to assess the risk of these medications on your planned pregnancy. You can also use this visit with your provider to discuss any substances at work that may be harmful to your developing baby.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet including sources of protein and lots of well washed fruits and veggies. But stay away from unpasteurized milk and cheeses as these can cause an infection that can harm your baby. Another food to avoid is raw or rare meat as this too can cause an infection during your pregnancy.
This month, join the nationwide effort to raise awareness of birth defects, their causes and their impact. The National Birth Defect Prevention Network wants us to realize that all women can make healthy choices that increase their chances of having a healthy baby. They ask that we make a PACT for prevention by:
Avoiding harmful substances
Choosing a healthy lifestyle
Talkingto your doctor
Learn more about the effect you can have on birth defects at www.nbdpn.org/bdpm2015.php. Let us know if we at Christie Clinic OB/GYN can answer any further questions you have about planning a healthy pregnancy.
“This article is not intended to provide specific medical advice and is not to be used or relied on for diagnostic or treatment purposes. Rather, this article is provided as an information resource only to help you better understand your health. It does not create any patient-physician relationship. You are urged to consult with a qualified physician for specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment and for answers to your personal medical questions.”