Important information about preventing birth defects
January 11, 2017
What are birth defects?
Birth defects are abnormal conditions that happen before or at the time of birth. Some are mild–like an extra finger or toe. Some are very serious– like a heart defect. They can cause physical, mental, or medical problems. Some, like Down syndrome or sickle cell anemia, are caused by genetic factors. Others are caused by certain drugs, medicines or chemicals. But the causes of most birth defects are still a mystery. Researchers are working hard to learn the causes of birth defects so that we can find ways to prevent them.
How serious are birth defects?
One in 33 babies is born with a birth defect. Many people believe that birth defects only happen to other people. Birth defects can and do happen in any family.About 120,000 babies in the U.S. each year have birth defects.
What is the good news?
The good news is that new ways of preventing and treating birth defects are being found. Genes that may cause birth defects are being found every day, providing hope for new treatments and cures.
Genetic counseling provides parents with information about their risks based on family history, age, ethnic or racial background, or other factors. Better healthcare for mothers with problems like diabetes or seizures can improve their chances of having healthy babies. Immunization prevents in-fections like German measles (rubella) that can harm unborn babies.
Today, babies born with birth defects can live longer and healthier lives. Special care after birth and newborn screening tests can help these babies.
What steps can women take to prevent birth defects?
Not all birth defects can be prevented. But a woman can increase her own-chance of having a healthy baby. Many birth defects happen very early in pregnancy sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
Remember that about half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Here are some steps a woman can take to get ready for a healthy pregnancy:
- Get early prenatal care and go to every appointment.
- Take a vitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) folic acid every day.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs.
- Keep hands clean by washing them often with soap and water to prevent infections.
- Talk with the health care professional about any medical problems and medicine use (both prescription and over-the-counter).
- Ask about avoiding any substances at work or at home that might be harmful to a developing baby.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and foods made from it.
- Avoid eating raw or under cooked meat.
For more information, ask your health care professional or local health department how to plan for a healthy baby.
Visit the March of Dimes website http://marchofdimes.com