We have all heard the old the old proverb: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Of course, not all birth defects, which manifest themselves as disabilities, cannot be prevented. However, taking some steps can reduce the likelihood of something going wrong. Birth defects are those present in the baby at birth or during the first month of life. There are two types of defects: genetic, which are inherited from the mother or father, and environmental, those caused by infectious diseases or toxic substances (e.g., drugs, alcohol, tobacco smoke, and toxic chemicals), to which the baby was exposed while in the uterus.
With the help of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an international group of individuals created the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), an organization dedicated to birth defects surveillance, research, and prevention. The theme for 2018 is “Prevent to Protect: Prevent Infections for Baby’s Protection,” with the social media hashtag #Prevent2Protect. The focus of the campaign is on how women can reduce the risk of infection during pregnancy, to help protect their developing baby. Both organizations have issued the following recommendations:
- Maintain regular prenatal care; inform the physician of all medications taken.
- Take vaccinations to prevent infectious diseases such as the flu, tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough.
- Avoid alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.
- Take 400 mcg folic acid daily.
- Stay healthy by watching weight and keeping diabetes under control.
According to the organization, “January is … a time to recognize people living with birth defects. Thanks to ongoing medical advancements, children born with birth defects are living longer. These children and their families still need help. They often need specialized treatment, continued care, and strong social support to improve their overall quality of life.”
The most common category is brain defects, affecting some 10 in every 1,000 live births. According to the (CDC), one in 33 (3%) babies is born with a birth defect; however birth defects account for one in 5 (20%) of all infant deaths. The most common is a chromosomal birth defect, Down syndrome, which accounts for approximately 6,000 births in the U.S. each year, or 1 in nearly 700 babies (that’s one every 4½ minutes).
It is, therefore, extremely important that parents-to-be are aware of what they can do to increase the likelihood of having a healthy baby.
Need more? Here are some other helpful resources:
- HealthyChildren.org, a project of the American Academy of Pediatrics, with 11 detailed steps a pregnant mother should take
- March of Dimes information on preventing birth defects
Birth Defects – Prevent to Protect