This is a guest post. All views contained herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Western Washington Medical Group.
One in 33 babies is born with a birth defect. This means that about 120,000 babies born in the U.S. each year will have birth defects. It’s easy to believe that birth defects only happen to other parents and their babies, but a child born with birth defects can happen to anyone—even the best and most loving of parents.
Birth defects are the leading cause of death in children under one year of age. Eighteen babies die each day in the U.S. due to birth defects. Birth defects also rack up a bill of approximately $2.6 billion in hospital costs per year.
Babies that are able to live with their defects are at increased risk for developing lifelong physical, cognitive, and social challenges. While there are many medical care and support services available for these children and their families, they only touch the surface of the deep emotional and financial impact of living with serious birth defects.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk of a birth defect. Making healthy lifestyle choices before and during pregnancy, by both the mother and father, and by making use of the medical intervention programs available, women can significantly lower their risk of having a baby with birth defects. Even women with genetic predisposition to birth defects can benefit from reducing the risks in the areas over which they have control, such as diet, exercise, and nourishment.
Review this infographic to see some of the best ways you can prepare your body to keep your baby healthy and whole:
Get 400 micrograms of folic acid, a B-vitamin, (folate) daily. The intake of folic acid supplements has been shown to reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine by 50%-70%.
Avoid alcohol during length of pregnancy. There is no guaranteed safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant, nor guaranteed safe time during pregnancy to do so. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Quit smoking. Smoking tobacco during pregnancy increases the risk of premature birth, birth defects such as the cleft palate, and infant death. Second hand smoke should also be avoided.
Do not use illicit drugs in any form. All drugs you take will also enter the bloodstream of your baby. The use of street drugs should be stopped at least several months before becoming pregnant, or immediately after discovering the pregnancy. Illicit drugs cause functional and structural birth defects. Defects of the heart, lungs, ears, eyes, intestines, genitals, premature death, increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and a variety of reduced cognitive function are commonly the result of using drugs while pregnant.
Discuss vaccinations with your doctor. Some vaccinations can protect women from infections have been known to cause birth defects. There are also some vaccinations that your doctor will suggest you avoid, such as some travel vaccines, etc. Getting the right vaccines at the right time in your pregnancy can help keep you and the baby healthy.
Prevent infections. Pregnant women are more prone to catching influenza and other viruses. While these are not usually dangerous, pregnant women can have more severe symptoms that can harm the unborn baby and even cause birth defects. Try to avoid contact with those who are ill, and wash your hands often. Do not eat raw or undercooked meat.
Discuss with your physician any medicines you are taking, both prescription and over the counter. There are some drugs that have been shown to contribute to birth defects, and should be avoided. For many medications, the danger is difficult to determine. Caution is best. If you are considering becoming pregnant, or already are, make an appointment as soon as possible to review your medications with your doctor.
Maintain a healthy diet. It is of vital importance that a women maintain a healthy diet during her pregnancy. Raw or undercooked meat should be avoided, as well as raw or unpasteurized milk. Raw veggies and fruit should compose the bulk of the diet, with whole grain breads. Sugars, fast food, and processed foods should all be avoided as much as possible. Soda, caffeine, and of course alcohol should also be eliminated from the diet. The healthier you are, the healthier your baby will be, and the less risk there is of a possible birth defect.
Get fit. Women who are obese (a body mass index of 30 or higher) before pregnancy are at higher risk to develop complications during pregnancy. Obesity increases the risk of birth defects. If you are considering getting pregnant, consult with your physician about establishing a fitness routine to reduce your weight.
Limit your exposure to chemicals and toxins. Pregnant women should avoid using any harsh cleaning chemicals or paints that have high VOC. they should also avoid coming into contact with other chemicals, such as gasoline, dry cleaning products, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides, or inhaling exhaust or any other chemical. Such chemicals can cause health problems for both mother and child, and result in possible miscarriage or birth defect.
Not all birth defects can be prevented. Some women have genetic predispositions or despite all their efforts, still develop complications that cause birth defects in their child. Early detection of birth defects can help reduce the impact of birth defects on you and your child, both now and later in life. If you are considering becoming pregnant, or are pregnant already, see your physician.
Pregnancy and children are a beautiful blessing, beyond appearances and abilities. January is birth defect awareness month. Let’s use this time to encourage knowledge in all mothers, so that more children can live the lives they were meant to.