January is Birth Defects Awareness month. You should know first and foremost that there is no one thing you can do that is guaranteed to prevent birth defects, and furthermore, not all birth defects are preventable. Despite what most of us want to hear, especially when it comes to having a healthy baby, it's impossible to control all of the things you come in contact with, which is fine because there's no way to determine with 100% certainty that something will or will not cause a health issue.
With that said, it's still important to work to do certain things that are known to decrease your risk of birth defects and avoiding certain things that increase the risk. The National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), a national (US), volunteer-based organization that addresses the issues of birth defects surveillance, research, and prevention, provides parents with a list of five key steps that help prevent birth defects.
#1 - Take 400 mcg of folic acid daily.
In case you missed it, last week's post talked all about folic acid (and folate), the importance of it, and how to get it every day. NBDPN talks about the the specific role folic acid plays in preventing birth defects:
"Folic acid is a B Vitamin. Our bodies use it to make new cells like the hair, skin and nails. During early development, folic acid helps form the neural tube. Folic acid is very important because it can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida). These types of birth defects of the brain and spine are called neural tube defects."
#2 - Before stopping or starting any medication, see your midwife, OB, or doctor.
Many medications are safe to take throughout pregnancy. Other medications are important to continue taking throughout pregnancy, even if there are risks, because the benefits are critical to your health. Some medications have alternatives that are safer to take during pregnancy. And some medications should be stopped altogether. It's important to make an informed decision about the medication you take or stop taking, under the care and guidance of your care provider.
#3 - Get up to date with all vaccinations, including the flu shot.
According to NBDPN:
"Vaccines help protect you and your baby. Some vaccinations, such as the flu (influenza) vaccine and the Tdap vaccine (adult tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis vaccine), are specifically recommended during each pregnancy. Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep you and your baby healthy."
#4 - Before pregnancy, try to reach a healthy weight.
Being underweight and overweight can increase your risk for birth defects. Work with your care provider before pregnancy to learn about your health at your current weight and how increasing or decreasing your weight could improve your health for pregnancy.
#5 - Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
Unfortunately, we don't know the "safe" amount of alcohol you can consume without risks of birth defects. For this reason, the current recommendation is to avoid it altogether.
With tobacco, which includes smoking in traditional ways (cigarettes, pipe, hookah) as well as vaping, we know that it can harm the placenta as well as baby and cause certain birth defects.
Marijuana passes through parent to baby and has been associated with impaired brain development. While more research is needed on its affect, the current recommendation is to avoid it during pregnancy.
Opiod use during pregnancy can cause dependency issues in newborns. If you currently take opiods, talk to your doctor about safer alternatives.
For questions about the effects of other drugs, talk to your health care provider. If you are dependent on tobacco, alcohol, or drugs and want to stop for pregnancy, your provider can help you find support to quit.
TagsBirth Defects Birth Defects Prevention Month National Birth Defects Prevention Network