According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), birth defects affect one in every 33 babies born in the United States each year and are the leading cause of infant deaths.
While uncontrollable factors like genetics and environmental factors increase risks for birth defects, there are preventative measures you can take to increase chances of having a healthy, full-term pregnancy and baby.
What are Birth Defects?
Birth defects are structural changes that affect how one or more parts of the body (e.g., heart, brain, foot) looks, works or both. The severity of birth defects can range from mild to severe. They can be found during pregnancy, at birth or anytime after, but are most commonly within the first year. While some birth defects, like cleft lip, are easily noticeable, others require special tests to diagnosis.
What Causes Birth Defects?
Birth defects can occur any time throughout a pregnancy, but most commonly develop during the first three months when the baby’s organs are forming. While we know what causes certain birth defects, like fetal alcohol syndrome, most are caused by a complex mix of factors not fully understood. However, past research has shown certain things do increase the chances, such as:
- Smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking certain drugs during pregnancy.
- Certain medical conditions, such as being obese or having uncontrolled diabetes before and during pregnancy.
- Medications, such as isotretinoin (a drug used to treat severe acne).
- Family history of birth defects.
- Higher Maternal Age, typically over the age of 34 years.
What can I do?
As stated before, not all birth defects can be prevented but there are things you can do if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant to maximize your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby!
- Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
- See a healthcare professional regularly.
- Avoid alcohol at any time during pregnancy.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes.
- Avoid marijuana and other drugs.
- Prevent infections.
- Avoid overheating and treat fever promptly.
- Keep diabetes under control.
- Strive to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Talk to a healthcare provider about taking any medications.
- Talk to a healthcare provider about vaccinations (shots).
For more information on how you provide your baby with the best possible environment for growth and development register for our free online Pregnancy 101 class.