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Learn how to prevent birth defects
Take care of yourself for health pregnancy
Published Wednesday, April 18, 2012 5:09 am
by Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity

Did you know that 1 out of every 33 babies born in the United States are born with a birth defect? That adds up to about 120,000 babies every year.

Birth defects are the leading cause in children one year of age and younger and 18 babies die each day due to a birth defect. Fortunately, there are many things we can do to help prevent and treat birth defects so that children can live full and happy lives.

What is a birth defect?
A birth defect is an abnormal condition that occurs either before or during birth. Birth defects can range from very mild, such as an extra finger or toe, to very serious like a heart defect, which can cause many physical, mental and medical issues.

We know that some birth defects are caused by genetics, like Down’s Syndrome, and some can be caused by drugs, chemicals or medicines. However, the causes of many birth defects are not known, but scientists are working to discover why they occur so that we can work further to prevent them.
It’s also important to know you and your partner’s medical history and family medical history, since some birth defects are related to current medical conditions you may have or genetics.

Genetic counseling is available if you and/or your partner have a concern about possible family medical conditions. The risk of some birth defects also increases with increased maternal age; certain tests are usually recommended for pregnant women aged 35 and over to test for birth defects. 

What can be done to prevent birth defects?
If a woman is of child-bearing age it is essential that she takes precaution to prevent birth defects, even if not planning a pregnancy, by taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.  Did you know that almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned? Many birth defects develop very early during pregnancy, so it is important to take care of yourself to have a healthy pregnancy. Other important things that can help prevent birth defects are:

• Avoid alcohol, tobacco and abusing drugs (prescription and illicit)

• Wash hands often to prevent illness

• Maintain good health by seeing a healthcare professional regularly; talk to your healthcare provider about any medications you use and any medical problems you have.

• Eat a healthy diet

If a woman is pregnant, she should also do the following:

• Get early and comprehensive prenatal care

• Ask your employer about any substance that might be harmful to a developing baby

• Avoid unpasteurized milk and foods made from it, avoid raw or undercooked meat

It is essential to remember that it is not only women who have a role to play in preventing birth defects. Men should also be living healthy lifestyles and know their own and their family’s medical history to help reduce the risk of birth defects in their children. We should all educate ourselves about birth defects prevention so that we can educate our communities and support our young families! Fortunately, advances in preventive medicine, such as vaccines, better prenatal care for mothers and babies, and genetic counseling have developed new ways of preventing and treating birth defects. 

How can I find out more?
If you are planning on becoming pregnant or are pregnant, you can talk to your healthcare provider or your local health department about how to plan for a healthy pregnancy. For more information on birth defects contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 1-800-CDC-Info or visit www.cdc.gov/birthdefects or www.cdc.gov/pregnancy. For information on national and local efforts for birth defects prevention, contact the March of Dimes at www.marchofdimes.com. 

Do you need further information or have questions or comments about this article? Please call toll-free 1-877-530-1824. Or, for more information about the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity please visit our website: http://www.wakehealth.edu/MACHE.


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