One of the most devastating things that new parents can face are birth defects in their newborn child, and it happens to 1 in every 33 babies. Because January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, we’ll dedicate this post to informing you about the causes and impacts of birth defects; discuss how to prevent birth defects when possible and where to seek help if you’d like to speak with a doctor.
About 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. Fertility can be adversely affected by being underweight or obese, as well as cause complications during pregnancy that can lead to birth defects. Eating heathy foods and maintaining a regular exercise regimen can help you reach your 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 health doctor 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 doctor.
- 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 (NAS) can result from opioid use during pregnancy.
- Get Vaccinated. Catch up on all necessary immunizations and vaccines to protect yourself and the baby, including the flu shot before or during gestation and the whooping cough vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. When the Covid-19 vaccine becomes readily available to the general population, it’s advised to get that 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 also be found in foods like leafy green vegetables, lentils, black beans and fortified grains (cereals, corn tortillas).
Talk to a Doctor
All Western Washington Medical Group Family Practice locations offer comprehensive care and can address concerns about birth defects. Schedule an appointment today at the location most convenient for you, or for more general inquiries, complete the form on this page. We look forward to seeing you.