What is a birth defect?
A birth defect is a problem with a developing baby that happens during pregnancy, and before delivery. Most birth defects occur during the first 8-12 weeks of the pregnancy, and about 1 in 30 babies in the United States is born with a birth defect.
A birth defect may affect how the body looks, works, or both. Some birth defects like cleft lip or neural tube defects are structural problems that can be easy to see. To find other internal defects, like heart defects, doctors use special tests. Birth defects can vary from being mild to severe.
Some birth defects are genetic, while others result from exposures to medicines or chemicals, but most have unknown causes. For example, alcohol consumption can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. Infections during pregnancy can also result in birth defects. Heart defects are among the most common birth defects affecting about 1 in 125 babies.
Some but not all birth defects can be prevented which is why education and awareness regarding the prevention of these birth defects are very important.
Below are some tips to prevent birth defects:
Take prenatal vitamins and folic acid supplements
It has been found that not enough women are aware that consuming enough folic acid is essential for preventing birth defects. Studies have shown only 28% of women of childbearing age were aware of the consumption of folic acid for preventing birth defects.
Women taking a vitamin supplement plus folic acid have children with fewer birth defects, with not only decreased risks of neural tube defects but also other malformations including cardiac, limb, and cleft palate. The U.S. Public Health Service and CDC recommend that all low-risk women of childbearing age consume 0.4 mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid daily and those at higher risk should take up to 4,000 micrograms) to prevent two common and serious birth defects, spina bifida and anencephaly. Despite these recommendations, less than 50% of women take sufficient folic acid preconception, prior to pregnancy.
Folic acid can help prevent serious brain and spine defects. Thus, it is important to begin taking folic acid supplements before and after getting pregnant. You should consume about 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Foods to help incorporate more folic acid into your diet include bread, crackers, tortillas, etc. made from enriched and fortified white flour.
Smoking not only affects a mother's health but also her baby's health. Exposure to cigarette smoke can cause a cleft palate and even miscarriage. The best way to prevent fetal death and birth defects is to quit smoking completely before getting pregnant. If you are already pregnant, stop smoking immediately to prevent health problems for your baby such as low birth weight.
Eat a well-balanced meal
It is important to eat a well-balanced meal with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Stop eating junk food and oily food during the preconception period. Eating nutritious meals will make sure your growing baby receives all the vital vitamins and minerals for growth.
Give up all alcohol
Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy not only get drunk themselves, but they also pass the alcohol right to their baby. Alcohol has the ability to pass through the placental barrier by going through the umbilical cord. This can lead to a serious birth defect called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). This leads to mental retardation, learning disabilities, and low birth weight.
Visit your doctor for a regular and preconception checkup
Visit your doctor for regular checkups before and after getting pregnant. This will help monitor your health as well as the health of your growing baby. If any problems are found, they can be checked immediately and also help prevent them from occurring.
Say no to drugs
Using illegal drugs during pregnancy and breastfeeding puts your baby at risk. Your baby can suffer from birth defects with their urinary system, reproductive system, limbs, and heart. Drugs can pass through breastmilk and cause growth and development problems in your infant. You must be sure to give up drugs entirely before getting pregnant.
Speak to your doctor before taking any herbs and OTC medications
Many drugs can cause side effects in a fetus and lead to birth defects. Therefore, it is always better to consult your doctor, before popping a pill in your mouth. Simple over the counter medications for headache, flu, cough and cold can lead to serious developmental problems in a fetus. Avoid taking herbal products without consulting your doctor first. Make sure to ask your doctor about certain vaccination shots, as not all vaccines are recommended for a pregnant woman.
Be at your optimal weight
It has been found that 1 in 100 live births is affected by a heart defect. This is seen in women who are pregnant with a body mass over 30. Studies have shown that overweight mothers are at greater risk for heart and other defects. Thus, one should carry out moderate exercises like walking, using a stationary bike and even swimming. Keep your body weight under control to avoid complications during pregnancy. Speak to your doctor about exercises that are safe for you during pregnancy.
Maintain your health, eat well, and exercise
It is important to try to avoid infections as many organisms have the ability to cause birth defects in a fetus. Avoid visiting crowded places and eating unhealthy foods. Also, you must maintain proper hygiene and avoid eating undercooked red meat. Undercooked red meat is a source of toxoplasmosis, a parasite that can lead to severe fetal brain damage. Women with diabetes should keep their blood sugar levels under control as it may affect the baby's health and lead to birth issues. Women over the age of 35 or those who know about previous genetic defects occurring in the family, should undergo genetic testing before getting pregnant. Genetic testing for both partners can help determine the probability of a genetic defect that can occur in the baby.
Getting pregnant is an exciting time for every woman, but there is a great deal of responsibility. Being aware of how to prevent birth defects is key to help both Mom and her baby. However, it should be noted that not all birth defects can be prevented. You can always kick-start a healthy life for your unborn baby by making sure to take all precautionary measures to help prevent any kind of birth defects from taking place.
Down Syndrome Risk Calculator
High-Risk Pregnancy Complications Guide
Pregnancy With a Pacemaker