January is Birth Defects Prevention Month


January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

One of the most devastating things that new parents can face in their newborn child are birth defects, which happens to 1 in every 33 babies. Because January is National Birth Defects Awareness Month, we’ll dedicate this post to informing you about the causes and impacts of birth defects; discuss how to prevent them when possible, and where to seek help if you’d like to speak with a healthcare provider.

The Causes and Impacts of Birth Defects

Defined as structural changes that affect one or more parts of the body, birth defects develop most often during the first three months in utero, when the fetus is developing organs. Any disruption in this development can cause a birth defect, whether it be genetic, environmental or behavioral on the part of the mother.

Common birth defects are congenital heart defects, spina bifida, club foot, Down Syndrome, Edwards’ Syndrome, and cleft lip and left palate.

Depending on the specific condition, the impacts of birth defects can be severe and remain prevalent in the child’s life indefinitely. Though not all birth defects are preventable, there are many ways that expectant mothers can take actions to deliver healthy babies.

How to Reduce the Risk of Birth Defects

Here are several actions that those who want to get pregnant and those who are already expecting can take to promote a healthy pregnancy and deliver a baby free of birth defects:

Reach your target weight range

Before you conceive, lose or gain the appropriate amount of weight to reach your body’s ideal size. Being underweight or obese can adversely affect fertility, and may cause complications during pregnancy that could lead to birth defects. Eating heathy foods and maintaining a regular exercise regimen can help you reach your weight goals. You may also want to consult with a nutritionist for help.

Get a pre-pregnancy check up

It’s advised to see your primary care provider for a routine physical examination before attempting to conceive. This will let you know if there are any areas of your body that need special attention or any areas of concern to address.

Stop smoking

Smoking tobacco has been known to reach the baby’s bloodstream and damage the placenta during pregnancy, which can lead to certain birth defects. If you need assistance to stop smoking, talk to your primary care provider.

Avoid alcohol and opioids

There are no known ‘safe’ amounts of alcohol to consume when expecting a baby, so it’s best to avoid beer, wine and spirits for the duration of the pregnancy. If you have been prescribed opioids for pain, discontinue use immediately upon learning you’re pregnant. Preterm births and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome can result from opioid use during pregnancy.

Get vaccinated

Catch up on all necessary immunizations to protect yourself and your baby. That includes getting the flu shot before or during gestation, and the whooping cough vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. The Covid and RSV vaccines are advised as well. Family members close to the expectant mother should also be vaccinated to help protect and prevent the spread of disease.

Take folic acid

Before and during pregnancy it’s recommended for women to take 400 mcg of folic acid every day. This helps prevent neural tube defects and can be found in foods like leafy green vegetables, lentils, black beans and fortified grains (cereals, corn tortillas).

Talk to a Health Provider About Your Concerns

All Western Washington Medical Group Family Practice providers offer comprehensive care and can address concerns about birth defects. Request an appointment today at the WWMG Family Medicine location most convenient for you. We look forward to supporting you and your baby’s health.