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January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month!

1/6/2020
 

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, an educational focus to raise awareness on the frequency in which birth defects occur in the United States.

We know not all birth defects can be prevented, but you can increase the chances of having a healthy baby by proactively managing existing health conditions while adopting healthy behaviors before and during pregnancy.

A birth defect is essentially a physical or biochemical abnormality present at birth which may be inherited or the result of an environmental influence.

Certain defects might be easily identifiable, while others may need special tests to detect.

Unfortunately, birth defects are present in one out of every 33 babies born.

While most birth defects are not preventable and have unknown causes, some are avoidable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests these top five tips to follow, before conception and during pregnancy, to help decrease the chances of a birth defect.

First and foremost, make an appointment with your OB/GYN or healthcare provider.

It’s important to discuss steps to be taken before conception such as discontinuing or changing medications that may be known to cause birth defects.

Take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day (most multivitamins contain at least 400 mcg of folic acid).

Folic acid is also found in foods with natural folate such as lentils, beans, leafy greens and fortified foods; cereals and some breads. 

Folic acid helps prevents birth defects of the spine and brain.It is also important to ensure adequate folic acid intake at least one month prior to conception.  

Stay up to date with vaccines and make sure you are protected from the Rubella virus.  Rubella is protected in the MMR vaccine.

You cannot receive this vaccine while pregnant and need to be vaccinated at least one month before conception.

If the Rubella virus is acquired while pregnant, it can cause miscarriage, deafness, intellectual disability, heart defects and blindness.

Contracting the flu while pregnant is also associated with preterm birth and higher rates of hospitalizations and death in the mother, so speak with your provider about attaining the flu shot.

It’s important to reach a healthy weight before getting pregnant.

Obesity is associated with cleft palates, heart disease and spina bifida. While pregnant it is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet and do regular physical activity.  

Avoid harmful substances while pregnant, including alcohol, tobacco, street drugs and medical marijuana.

There is no safe amount of alcohol to consume while you are pregnant.

Smoking tobacco during pregnancy can cause premature birth, cleft lip and palate and even infant death.

Marijuana use during pregnancy can cause stillbirth, premature birth, and been inked to behavioral and attention problems in children.

Additional issues from marijuana (including medical marijuana) use is linked to low birth weight and premature birth.

If you are taking medical marijuana and plan to become pregnant, please discuss a safer alternative with your healthcare provider.

A few other tips in preventing birth defects (while pregnant) include treating any type of high fever quickly and avoid overheating.

Elevating a fetus' temperature can cause developmental problems with the brain and spine such as spina bifida and anencephaley (absence or underdevelopment of brain and skull).

It is also important to manage medical conditions before becoming pregnant.

For example, uncontrolled diabetes can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and babies born too large; potential problems with dangerously low blood sugar after birth, trouble breathing and congenital heart disease.

Another example of a medical condition which could affect your newborn is uncontrolled high blood pressure.

This chronic medical condition could cause miscarriage, stillbirth, the infant born too small, heart malformations, spina bifida and brain deformities.

Additional preventative measures include the exclusion of certain foods.

Pregnant women should not eat raw or under cooked meat, as it increases the chances of contracting food born illnesses.

These illnesses, like toxoplasmosis and salmonella can cause serious defects in a developing fetus.

Toxoplasmosis can also be contracted through animal feces, especially cats.

It is recommended that pregnant women skip out on tending to the cat's litter box. Toxoplasmosis infection can cause hearing loss, vision problems and intellectual disability in babies.

It is also important not to ingest excessive amounts of mercury while pregnant. This is most often encountered when eating large species of fish like king mackerel, big eye tuna, marlin, shark and swordfish.

Fish are a great source of nutrients and should be consumed at least once per week; however, when pregnant it is best to choose fish with low mercury content.

Excessive mercury intake during pregnancy has been linked to developmental delays and brain defects.

Keeping track of "things to avoid" when trying to conceive or while pregnant may seem like a daunting task.

Since we are limited on space, it would be impossible to include everything that could possibly cause birth defects.

Therefore, having an appointment to discuss birth defect prevention with your OB/GYN is the best first step in having a healthy baby.

If you are pregnant, or looking to conceive, check out the CDC website which is an excellent source of information on birth defects and how to prevent them. www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/index.html

Lea Dickens attended the University of Florida, Gainesville, graduating Magna Cum Laude with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2008, and her Master’s in 2009. She is certified as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and has been with Pediatrics in Brevard since 2013 based in the Melbourne, Florida office.

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