What is a birth defect?

A birth defect is a problem with a developing baby that happens during pregnancy, before delivery.

Most birth defects happen 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 others, like heart defects, doctors use special tests. Birth defects can vary from mild to severe.

Some birth defects are genetic, others result from exposures to medicines or chemicals, but most have unknown causes.

For example, alcohol abuse can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. Infections during pregnancy can also result in birth defects. Heart defects are among the most common birth defectsaffecting about 1 in 125 babies.

Some but not all birth defects can be prevented and education and awareness regarding prevention of these birth defects is very important.

Below are some tips to prevent birth defects:

Take Supplements of Prenatal Vitamins and Folic Acid

It has been found not enough women are aware that consuming enough of folic acid helps in prevention of birth defects. Studies have shown only 28% women of childbearing age were aware about consumption of folic acid for preventing birth defects.

Woman taking a vitamin supplement plus folic acid have children with less birth defects, not only decreased risks of neural tube defects but also other malformations such as 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 high risk should take up to 4,000 micrograms) to prevent two common and serious birth defectsspina bifida and anencephalyDespite these recommendations, less than 50% of women take sufficient folic acid preconception, prior to pregnancy. 

Folic acid helps in prevention of serious brain and spine defects. Thus, it is important one starts taking folic acid supplements before and after getting pregnant. One needs to consume about 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Include bread, crackers, tortillas, etc. made from enriched and fortified white flour. 

Stop Smoking  

One is aware of the dangers of smoking. It is also important to note, smoking not only affects the mother's health, but also the baby's health. The cigarette smoke can cause cleft plate or infant death, that is, miscarriage. The best way to prevent fetal death and birth defects is to quit smoking before getting pregnant. If one is already pregnant, stop smoking immediately to prevent health problems like low birth weight from occurring. Get more information from the following Buzzle link on birth defects caused by smoking.

Eat a Well-Balanced Meal 

One should eat a well-balanced meal with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables included. Stop eating junk foods and oily foods during the preconception period. Eating nutritious meals will make sure your growing fetus 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 also feed the nasty alcohol to their fetus. Alcohol has the ability to pass through the placental barrier by going through the umbilical cord. This can lead to the serious birth defect called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). This leads to mental retardation, learning disabilities, and low birth weight.

Visit the Doctor for A Regular and Preconception Check Up 

Visit the doctor for regular checkups before and after getting pregnant. This will help monitor your health as well as the health of the growing fetus. If any problems are found, they can be checked immediately and one can prevent them from occurring.

Say NO to Drugs 

Women who use illegal drugs during pregnancy are putting their babies at risk. The baby may suffer from birth defects like defects of the limbs, urinary system, reproductive system as well as heart. One should also prevent using drugs when breastfeeding as these drugs can pass through breast milk. This causes growth and development problems in the infant. Thus, make sure you give up drugs completely before getting pregnant.

Speak to the Doctor Before Taking Any Medications Including Herbs and other OTC

Many drugs can cause side effects in the fetus and lead to birth defects. Thus, it is always better to consult a doctor, before popping a pill in your mouth. Simple over the counter medications for headache, flu, cough and cold, etc. can lead to serious developmental problems in the fetus. Avoid taking herbal products too without consulting your doctor first. Make sure you even ask about certain vaccination shots to your doctor before taking them. Not all vaccines are recommended for a pregnant woman.

Be at your optimal  weight

It has been found 1 in 100 live births is affected by heart defects. This is seen in women who are pregnant with a body mass is over 30. Studies have shown overweight mothers at greater risk for birth defects in their babies like heart defects. Thus, one should carry out moderate exercises like walking, using stationary bike and even swimming. Keep your body weight under control to avoid complications during pregnancy. Speak to your doctor about the exercises that are safe for you during pregnancy.

Maintain Your Health Eat Well and Exercise

It is important to keep away from infections as many organisms have the ability of causing birth defects in fetus. One needs to avoid visiting crowded places and eating unhealthy foods from outside. Also 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 of both partners will help determine the probability of a genetic defect that can occur in the baby.

These are some of the ways that help in preventing birth defects. Getting pregnant is an exciting period for every woman, but it is full of responsibility. Awareness about how to prevent birth defects helps in the well-begin of both, the mother and her unborn child. However, it should be noted not all birth defects can be prevented. But, you can always kick-start a healthy life for your unborn baby by making sure you take all the precautionary measures to prevent any kind of birth defects from taking place.

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