Expectant parents know all about preparing their home for a new baby, but the most important steps they can take to safeguard their child’s health start well before pregnancy begins.
January is Birth Defects Prevention Month, and Akron Children’s Hospital is spreading the word about how common birth defects are, the toll they can take on a child’s health and well-being, and how to prevent them.
Birth defects are conditions present at birth that may adversely affect an individual’s health by changing the body’s shape or functioning. They can affect general health, how the body develops or how the body works. They include heart defects, cleft lip or palate, defects of the brain or spine, nervous system disorders, vision or hearing problems, as well as degenerative and metabolic disorders, such as muscular dystrophy or hypothyroidism.
Some are minor and can be treated before or after birth with minimal long-term effects. Others are life-altering, causing mental or physical disabilities requiring long-term treatment and support, while still others are life-threatening.
In fact, for infants from birth to 12 months and children from 1 to 4 years, birth defects are the first and second most common causes of death, respectively.
“Many people don’t realize how common or serious they are, or how much they can impact quality of life,” said Connie Motter, certified genetic counselor. “In the United States, a baby is born with a birth defect every 4 ½ minutes. That’s nearly 1 in every 33 live births.”
“The good news is there are steps women can take to reduce their risk, and Akron Children’s is working to raise awareness about prevention.”
The health of both parents affects their risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Diet, lifestyle, environment, health conditions and medications can all play a role, so it’s critical to make healthy choices before becoming pregnant.
Studies recommend these 9 steps that women can take to reduce the risk of birth defects before and during pregnancy:
- Take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
- Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.
- Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs.
- Avoid toxic substances at work and home.
- Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes or seizure disorders.
- Know your family’s medical history and potential genetic risks.
- Schedule a checkup before pregnancy to address existing health issues, prescription and over-the-counter medications you take, and whether you should seek genetic counseling.
- During pregnancy, get regular checkups and recommended prenatal tests.
Connie also advises all women of childbearing age to take a multivitamin every day, whether planning a pregnancy or not.