January is National Birth Defects Prevention Awareness Month. It's critical for anyone who is pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or will one day get pregnant, to know the most important, up-to-date information about preventing birth defects.
According to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), in the United States, about 120,000 babies are born with a birth defect each year and birth defects are the leading cause of death in baby's first year. The good news is that you can take steps before and during your pregnancy to prevent birth defects.
This year, Lamaze is joining with the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, the Teratology Society, and MothertoBaby to increase awareness of birth defects and how they can be prevented. The 2018 campaign theme is “Prevent to Protect: Prevent Infections for Baby’s Protection”, which gives special focus on the importance of preventing infections before and during pregnancy to reduce the risk of having a baby with a birth defect.
NBDPN advises women who are pregnant or who are planning to become pregnant to take the following steps to prevent birth defects by preventing infections:
- Get the flu shot and the whooping cough vaccine.
- Become up-to-date with all vaccines before getting pregnant.
Prevent insect bites.
- Use insect repellent.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside.
- Consider avoiding travel to areas with Zika virus. Practice good hygiene.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Avoid putting a young child’s cup or pacifier in your mouth.
Talk to your healthcare provider.
- Ask about how you can prevent infections, such as Zika virus.
- Discuss how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
Additional steps you can take to prevent birth defects include:
- Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily
- Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or phenylketonuria (PKU)
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight
- Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter
- Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs
- See a health care provider regularly
- Avoid toxic substances at work or at home
- Ensure protection against domestic violence
- Know your family history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate
Patricia Olney, MS, a certified genetic counselor and pregnancy risk specialist at MotherToBaby (the pregnancy and breastfeeding medications and toxins exposure specialist organization) informs parents about the importance of taking folic acid:
Since one-half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned and because birth defects occur very early in pregnancy (3-4 weeks after conception), the United States Centers for Disease Control recommends all women of childbearing age consume folic acid daily. CDC estimates that most of these birth defects could be prevented if this recommendation were followed before and during early pregnancy.
Folic acid can be found naturally in dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce), asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, carrots, squash, beets, oranges, papayas, grapefruit, strawberries, fruits (bananas, melons, and lemons), beans (with lentils yielding the highest amount), seeds and nuts, avocado, yeast, mushrooms, and beef. To ensure that you are receiving sufficient folic acid on a daily basis, CDC advises taking a synthetic supplement (vitamin) of folic acid that delivers at least 400 micrograms of folic acid.To learn more about prevention or find a support group, NBDPN has created a comprehensive list of birth defect internet resources for parents and families.
For more resources on preventing birth defects by preventing infections, check out the following articles by MotherToBaby:
- "The Flu: Why Prevention is Key during Pregnancy"
- “Spread Prevention, Not the Infection during Pregnancy"