Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part or parts of the body (e.g., heart, brain, foot). They may affect how the body looks, works, or both. Birth defects can vary from mild to severe. According to the 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. A birth defect can be found before birth, at birth, or any time after birth.
Birth defects can occur during any stage of pregnancy. Most birth defects occur in the first 3 months of pregnancy, when the organs of the baby are forming. This is a very important stage of development. However, some birth defects occur later in pregnancy. During the last six months of pregnancy the tissues and organs continue to grow and develop.
For some birth defects, the cause is known, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, but for most others, the cause is unknown. Through past research, some things might increase the chances of having a baby with a birth defect, such as:
- Smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking certain “street” drugs during pregnancy.
- Having certain medical conditions, such as being obese or having uncontrolled diabetes before and during pregnancy.
- Taking certain medications, such as isotretinoin (a drug used to treat severe acne).
- Having someone in your family with a birth defect.
- Being an older mother, typically over the age of 34 years.
Birth Defects Prevention
Not all birth defects can be prevented. But, there are things that a woman can do before and during pregnancy to increase her chance of having a healthy baby:
- Plan Ahead: Get 400mcg of folic acid everyday and see your healthcare provider regularly.
- Avoid harmful substances, such as alcohol, smoking cigarettes, marijuana, and other street drugs. Lead exposure can also be a cause of birth defects in pregnant women.
- Choose a healthy lifestyle. Keep diabetes under control and try to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about taking any medications and vaccinations.
Specifically, lead poisoning can also be the cause of a birth defect. Lead can pass from a mother to her unborn baby. It can put her at risk for a miscarriage or hurt her baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system, or cause your child to have learning or behavior problems. Lead can be found in paint and dust in older homes, from renovations and repairs; candy, makeup, glazed pots, soil and tap water can all be sources of lead. There are things you can do for lead birth defects prevention such as:
- Watch out for lead in your home. If in doubt, you can obtain an easy do-it-yourself lead in dust, paint, water, toys or soil test kit.
- Talk to your doctor.
- Avoid certain jobs or hobbies.
- Eat food with calcium, iron, and vitamin C.
- Store food properly.
To find out more about lead poisoning and other birth defects prevention, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website.
January is National Birth Defects Prevention month. Each January, the CDC and other organizations raise awareness among women and families on actions they can take to help have a healthy pregnancy. January is also a time to recognize people living with birth defects. Thanks to ongoing medical advancements, children born with birth defects are living longer. These children and their families still need help. They often need specialized treatment, continued care, and strong social support to improve their overall quality of life. Additional information on National Birth Defects Prevention month and how you can become involved, is available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/prevention-month.html.
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