Help Prevent Birth Defects With Preventive Measures
By Duff Holcomb, RN, Maternity Educator, Saint Joseph London
Pregnancy is an exciting time for women, but it can also be a time filled with anxiety as they undergo testing to ensure their baby is healthy. Birth defects affect one in every 33 babies born in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While some birth defects can be the result of genetics or having a baby after the age of 34, some defects are caused by the mother’s environment or her behavior. This is why it’s important that pregnant women adopt a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy.
January is National Birth Defects Month, a time to raise awareness about the causes of birth defects and their impact. Birth defects range from mild to severe and can affect how the body looks or works. Common birth defects include congenital heart defects, Down syndrome, spina bifida, or having a cleft lip or palate, among others. These conditions may be found during pregnancy as the mother undergoes testing, or after the baby is born.
During the first and second trimester of pregnancy, screening tests – including blood tests, ultrasounds, and/or testing of the placenta or amniotic fluid – are often administered to help detect any chromosomal abnormalities. The blood screen will examine protein levels in the mother’s blood, while the ultrasound will show an image of the baby. Extra fluid in this image may indicate or birth defect or disorder. If fluid is detected, additional testing may be required.
When having a baby, it’s important to take preventive measures to ensure the newborn is healthy. Certain birth defects can be prevented by controlling diabetes, talking to a doctor about what medications are safe to take, and abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Women who are pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, which helps prevent major birth defects in the baby’s brain and spine. Women are encouraged to begin taking folic acid before getting pregnant.
It’s also important to stay up-to-date on your vaccines like the flu shot and whooping cough vaccine (Tdap), since your baby will not be able to have these shots immediately after birth. By protecting yourself, you can help prevent serious illness during pregnancy and also the health of your baby during and after pregnancy.
Before you get pregnant, you should also try to reach a healthy weight by eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly. Those who are obese, overweight or underweight should talk to a health care provider to find effective ways to reach a healthy weight.
During pregnancy, take steps to keep your baby healthy and prevent it from being at risk for a birth defect. Pregnancy should be an exciting time for expectant mothers, and ensuring your newborn is healthy while it is developing can help lessen any anxiety surrounding the birth of your child. Inquire with your physician about Prepared Childbirth Classes, which can assist first time parents in understanding more about the childbirth process and healthy tips for their newborn.