January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. According to the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network, the birth defects occur in about 3% of all live births. It is estimated that every 4 ½ minutes, a child in the United States is born with a birth defect meaning nearly 120,000 babies are affected by it annually.
Birth defects are the structural changes that occur at birth which can affect any part of the body and how it functions varying from mild to severe. And, based on the part or the organ involved, it can affect the lifespan of the individual.
Birth defects can include various forms of health conditions such as clubfoot to Fragile X syndrome. For instance, Down Syndrome was the most common condition with a national prevalence as 14.7% per 10,000 live births. Some of the other forms of common Birth defects include congenital heart defects, cleft lip and spina bifida.
In some cases, the Birth defect is identified at the birth of the infant, before the birth or any time after the first years of their life. It can occur anytime during any stage of pregnancy although most of it occurs in the initial 3 months of pregnancy.
Sometimes, the exact cause of birth defect may not be known, as it is believed to be caused by a complex set of factors such as:
▪️Our behaviors and lifestyle Choices.
▪️Our intake of various substances.
▪️Exposure to certain medications and chemicals.
▪️Infections during pregnancy.
▪️The presence of certain things in our environments.
▪️A combination of these factors.
Although, not all Birth defects can be prevented but managing an individuals’ health condition is essential by adopting healthy lifestyle changes which can positively impact a woman’s pregnancy and thereby also preventing common Birth defects.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following tips are recommended for the prevention of Birth Defects in Babies:
Neural birth defects can occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy even before the woman is aware of her pregnancy. Therefore, as part of planning for a healthy pregnancy, CDC recommends women to take 400 mcg of folic acid per day to prevent major birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
Spina bifida is a condition when the spine of the baby does not develop correctly resulting in severe disabilities.
Anencephaly occurs when parts of the baby’s brain and the skull do not develop properly. Therefore plan ahead, it’s essential!
Get a regular professional healthcare:
It is important to checkup with the physician when planning a pregnancy and to be able to start prenatal care as soon as pregnancy is suspected.
Preconception checkup is also important for a woman to help ensure they are healthy for pregnancy. This is particularly the case if a woman already had a child with birth defect.
Also, talking with the health care provider about taking any medications is essential as it can also cause serious birth defects. Therefore, women planning a pregnancy or is pregnant should not stop taking medications they require or start taking medications including prescription or over the counter medications and herbal products.
Avoid harmful substances:
Don’t drink alcohol during pregnancy or if planning it as it can result in miscarriage, premature birth and birth defects. In addition, it can cause a range of lifelong physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities, also known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. As there is no known safe quantity of alcohol use during pregnancy, it is therefore not recommended.
It is also considered best to avoid smoking cigarettes as it can result in birth defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate.
Choose a healthy lifestyle:
It is important to maintain healthy weight if planning pregnancy as obesity increases the risk of complications during pregnancy and various serious Birth defects. Therefore it is important to discuss with the healthcare provider about how to reach a healthy weight for pregnancy.
Also, women who are diabetic should control the condition as it increases the chance of Birth defects and other associated problems including serious complications for the woman.
As certain types of infections can cause serious illness including birth defects and lifelong disabilities, it is important to prevent developing infections. This is possible by following various preventive steps such as:
▪️ Washing of hands with soap after using public places, handling pets, touching raw meats and if caring for children or elders.
▪️ Avoiding contact with saliva and urine from young children as the common virus called cytomegalovirus can potentially cause microcephaly and hearing loss in some infants.
▪️ Avoiding unpasteurized milk or food that could be made from it.
▪️As some individuals could have HIV, hepatitis B and other STD without symptoms, it is therefore also important to talk to the healthcare provider and getting tested thereby reducing the chance of passing it onto the child.
Certain types of vaccines are recommended during pregnancy such as the Tdap vaccine (adult tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine). As pregnant women are more prone to severe illness from the flu including hospitalizations and an increased risk of developing serious problems such as preterm birth, it is important to protect both the mother and the child by taking flu shots during pregnancy.
Also some of types of vaccines can protect women against certain infections that could potentially cause birth defects, therefore right vaccines at the right time are important to keep the child healthy. Hence, it is advised that women planning pregnancy should consult with their health care practitioner about the types of vaccines recommended during pregnancy.
Follow these recommended tips, and do what is best for you and your baby!