The month of January is designated as National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Birth defects are conditions that cause structural changes present at birth in one or more parts of the body. They can have an effect on a baby’s health, development and functioning. According to the CDC, about one in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect.
Some birth defects can be prevented. Things a woman can do before and during her pregnancy to increase the chance of having a healthy baby include:
- Taking 400 mcg of folic acid every day. Why folic acid? It’s a B Vitamin that helps make new cells and has been proven to help with a baby’s brain and spine development. Folic acid can be found in foods as well as supplements.
- Abstaining from alcohol, smoke and the use of other “street drugs.”
- Talking to a health care provider about the use of prescription or over-the-counter medications and dietary or herbal supplements. (Also talk to a doctor before you stop using any medications that are needed to treat health conditions.)
- Learning how to prevent infections during pregnancy.
Birth defects occur before a baby is born. Most develop in the first three months of pregnancy, but they can develop after. Birth defects are caused by a complex combination of factors, which include: genes, behaviors and environmental factors. Some birth defects can be traced to a cause; others cannot. But some women have a higher chance of having a child with a birth defect. These include:
- Women who take certain drugs, smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy
- Women with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or obesity
- Women who take certain medications that are known to cause birth defects, such as isotretinoin (a drug used to treat severe acne)
- Women who have someone in their family with a birth defect, a genetic counselor can tell you more
- Women over the age of 35 years
To learn more about preventing birth defects, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) page about birth defects, the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists website (OTIS) or speak with your physician.