How to Prevent Birth Defects

05-WBDDLOGO.jpgOn World Birth Defects Day, we want to take a moment to share what you can do to reduce your chance of giving birth to a baby with a birth defect. Before we list that information, however, you should know two things: most birth defects cannot be prevented because their cause is unknown; and babies, children, and adults living with a birth defect are people of worth -- and are worthy of love. It is reasonable to worry about a birth defect, but it is not reasonable to believe you can do everything "right" to prevent one. It is reasonable to worry about having a baby with a birth defect while still valuing and loving the children and families who live with or live with loss because of one. 

The following tips are the few things you can do (mostly within your control -- some easy, some more difficult) to help prevent birth defects.

  • Start healthy practices before becoming pregnant - pay attention to diet, medication, exposures, and see a doctor to discuss your health, lifestyle, risk factors, and other tips
  • Consume folate-rich foods daily, before and during pregnancy, or take a synthetic form of folate with a supplement that contains "methylfolate," which is a better absorbed form of folic acid (learn more about the difference here)
  • Learn more about your weight and its implications for a healthy pregnancy
  • See your care provider regularly, as scheduled, during your pregnancy
  • Consider the medications you use - work with your doctor to find out if they're safe for pregnancy or if there's a safer alternative 
  • Make sure any medical conditions you have are treated appropriately before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy
  • Do not drink alcohol during pregnancy - talk to your doctor if you're pregnant and need help quitting
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy - talk to your doctor if you're pregnant and need help quitting
  • Do not take illegal drugs during pregnancy
  • Do not use marijuana or prescription drugs unless you have a medical reason to do so (ie, don't take these drugs "recreationally")
  • Learn best practices for preventing infections, including staying up to date on vaccinations, safe food handling and cooking, hand washing, and safe sex habits and treating sexually transmitted infections
  • Limit or avoid being exposed to known agents that cause birth defects, including consuming too much mercury (through eating too much high mercury fish), exposure to lead, and taking in too much vitamin A

Pregnancy often causes added stress from all the things you're told you should do/not do and worry/not worry about. It's good to strike a balance of doing what you can do to achieve and maintain health, and get support for the the things you need help with, like stopping smoking or drinking, or starting a healthy diet and incorporating exercise. 

Sources: ACOGCDC

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