birth defects

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month.  The goal of this month is to raise awareness and educate the public.  For more information, visit the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.

Most birth defects are genetic and therefore are completely unavoidable.  But, you can increase your chances of a healthy baby by managing conditions and adopting a few new behaviors.

1. Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid a day.

This is super critical.  Folic acid can help to prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine, including anencephaly and spina bifida.  The great news is that most prenatal vitamins have more than the recommended daily allowance of folic acid in them, making it super simple to get your daily dose.  There are also plenty of foods rich in folic acid, such as spinach, broccoli, asparagus, even citrus fruits like papaya, oranges and strawberries, along with fortified cereals.  Many doctors recommend you begin taking a folic acid supplement before you’re pregnant, so if you’re thinking about trying to conceive in the near future, start popping this pronto.

2. Avoid alcohol.

Opinions about drinking while pregnant vary, with some people saying it’s OK to consume a little bit in moderation and others saying to avoid alcohol completely.  The bottom line is, there really isn’t a “safe” amount of alcohol to drink when you’re pregnant, even if you’re drinking as little as one to two drinks per week.

3. Quit smoking.

Most people know that smoking is bad for their health, but it’s especially dangerous for pregnant moms to smoke as it raises the risk of serious health problems for their unborn babies.  If you’re a smoker, the best thing you can do is quit before you conceive, or as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.

4. Prevent simple infections.

Certain infections can cause serious harm to an unborn baby.  Be sure to be extra diligent and wash your hands frequently, cook your meat until it’s well done (while avoiding hot dogs, deli meats or lunch meats unless they’re reheated to steaming hot), avoiding unpasteurized cheese and milk, and avoid changing the litter box.

5. Don’t use any medication without consulting your doctor first.

Certain medications can cause birth defects, so be sure to check with your doctor before starting anything new.

6. Maintain a healthy weight.

Women who are obese are at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy.  The goal is to reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant, and maintaining that weight throughout the duration of the pregnancy.

7. Keep diabetes under control.

Poor control of diabetes during pregnancy can cause issues for both mom and baby.  Get your diabetes under control before you conceive in order to reduce your risks.

8. Visit the Doctor Regularly

Your OB is your best friend during your pregnancy, and a person you’ll see pretty darn often.  While the visits can seem daunting to some (particularly if you have to take off work to go to them or arrange for child care during them), proper prenatal care is essential for a healthy mom and a healthy baby.