Birth defects cause serious problems in your baby’s overall health, how his body develops and how his/her body works. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and a good time to remind women that there are things you can do to help prevent birth defects in your baby.
Each year, about 1 in 33 babies in the U.S. is born with a birth defect. Most defects develop in the first three months when a baby’s organs are forming. Common defects include congenital heart defects —which is the most common, cleft lip and cleft palate, and spina bifida.
While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are things that a woman can do to increase her chances of having a healthy, full-term pregnancy, and a healthy baby.
- Take Folic Acid
Take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, even before you become pregnant. Folic acid is a B vitamin and is proven to help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine. Eat foods that contain folate, too. Foods including, but not limited to, lentils, leafy green vegetables, black beans and orange juice all contain the natural form of folic acid.
- Have a pre-pregnancy checkup
If you are considering becoming pregnant, see your doctor for a pre-pregnancy checkup. Be sure to talk about any and all the medications you are taking, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements. If you have any health conditions, your doctor can help you determine the best way to manage them before becoming pregnant.
- Get vaccinated
Ask your doctor about the vaccinations you need during each pregnancy, including the flu shot and the whooping cough booster. You can get the whooping cough vaccine in the last three months of each pregnancy. Your family should also be up-to-date with their vaccinations to help prevent the spread of diseases.
- Reach a healthy weight
Whether underweight, overweight or obess, an unhealthy weight can affect fertility, and it can cause problems for you and your baby during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about reaching the right weight for you; and include a healthy diet and regular exercise in your daily routine before, during, and after you’ve had the baby.
- Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful substances
Smoking cigarettes, e-cigs, or marijuana during pregnancy is bad for you and even worse for your baby. These dangerous chemicals can damage the placenta and/or reach the baby’s bloodstream and are the cause of birth defects like cleft lip and palate. The added benefit is that you will feel better during your pregnancy if you quit smoking.
No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy, and using it while pregnancy can cause major birth defects. Stop drinking even when you are trying to get pregnant.
Harmful substances like opioids can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and premature birth in babies. Babies exposed to addictive substances have withdrawal symptoms after they are born. NAS may lead to long-term health and development problems, including hearing and vision problems and problems with learning and behavior.
If you have an addiction problem and are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about counseling, treatment and other support services.
If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any and all medications that you are currently taking. These include prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, herbal and dietary supplements, and vitamins.
Many women need to take certain medicines during pregnancy to control certain health conditions. In some cases, avoiding or stopping a medicine during pregnancy may be more harmful than taking it. However, we do know that certain medications can increase the risk of birth defects, pregnancy loss, prematurity, infant death, or developmental disabilities.
You should not start any new medicines or stop a current medicine without talking to a healthcare professional. If you have asthma, epilepsy, high blood pressure, or depression, you may need to take your medications so you can stay healthy during pregnancy. A healthcare professional can help you weigh the risks and benefits of each medicine and determine the safest treatment for you and your developing baby.