In roughly the time it will take you to read this article, a baby will be born with a birth defect in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every four and a half minutes, a baby enters the world with a heart defect, hearing problem, cleft lip or palate, intellectual disability, or other congenital problem.
Many birth defects are not preventable, largely because their precise causes remain unclear. Experts think genetic, behavioral and environmental factors play a role in their development. What can you do to keep your baby safe? Mitigate the risk factors you can control.
Best Defenses Against Birth Defects
Here’s a fact of pregnancy: What’s good for mom is usually good for baby. That is especially true when it comes to preventing birth defects. Follow these steps to keep yourself and your developing baby well:
- Be proactive. Preventing birth defects starts before conception. Learn as much as you can about the risk factors. Discuss your pregnancy plan with your physician. Be sure to get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day at least a month before conceiving and throughout pregnancy. This B vitamin helps prevent several birth defects, including spina bifida.
- Control chronic conditions. Diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity threaten your health and your baby’s. Partner with your physician to manage them properly.
- Keep germs at bay. Certain infections you might get during pregnancy can cause birth defects. Get an MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine at least one month before getting pregnant, if you haven’t been vaccinated already. To prevent toxoplasmosis, avoid contact with soil and wash produce before eating. Practice good hand hygiene.
- Make healthy choices. Embrace regular exercise and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean meats and low in fat, salt and sugar. Reject alcohol and tobacco.
- Be a model patient. Keep all prenatal medical appointments. Your physician needs to get to know you and your developing baby well to help both of you stay healthy. Inform your physician about all medications you take, as well as any history of birth defects in your family. If birth defects have occurred in your family before or you are in your mid- to late 30s or older, your baby has a higher risk of birth defects, and your physician may provide more extensive testing or refer you for genetic counseling to learn more.