6 ways to prevent birth defects

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States. That means nearly 120,000 babies are affected by birth defects each year. While the numbers seem overwhelming, there are some steps mothers or women planning to have children can take to reduce the risk. Jenny Dougal, MSN, RNC-OB, NP-C, Parkview Physicians Group – Advanced Perinatal Care, shares more.
6 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Birth Defects
  1. Always plan your pregnancy. Think about whether you want to start trying to conceive in the next 12 months, 2 years, etc.
  2. Seek out a preconception exam with your provider. Tell your provider you would like to get pregnant in the next 12 months, 2 years etc. and ask what you need to do to be in the best possible health. This allows the provider a chance to:
    1. Review your health history
    2. See if you’ve had previous pregnancies
    3. Review medications to see if your medications are safe for pregnancy or if you should be switched to a different type of medication
    4. Look at your chronic health conditions to ensure your medical conditions are well-controlled (i.e. diabetes, hypertension) prior to pregnancy
    5. Ensure you’re at the best weight possible for you (obese women have a higher risk for birth defects)
  3. All women in reproductive age – age 14/15 to 50 – should be taking 400 mcg of folic acid, daily. Although it is found in some food, the full amount of folic acid is best received in a multivitamin – since vitamins are consistent and our diets are not always. Folic acid is a B vitamin but it has been found to help prevent major neural tube birth defects in infants which includes the brain and spine.
    1. Any women thinking of becoming pregnant that already has a child with neural tube defects, should take a higher dosage. Talk to your physician.
  4. Infection prevention
    1. Have good hygiene – wash your hands often and prepare food safely
    2. Ensure all immunizations are up to date – including receiving a flu shot
    3. Avoid being exposed to infections as much as possible
  5. Avoid substances that we know can be harmful in pregnancy (smoking, alcohol)
    1. Abstain from alcohol - there is no known amount of alcohol that is considered safe at any part of pregnancy
    2. Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke
    3. Only take the recommended type and dosage of medication as directed by your OB/GYN physician.
  6. Birth spacing
    1. It’s recommended to wait at least 18 months between pregnancies (from the end of one pregnancy to conception of the next). Shorter intervals are associated with higher rates of preterm delivery and other adverse outcomes.

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