8 Ways to Reduce the Risks of Birth Defects

By: Anna J. Igler, MD, Aurora Bay Area Medical Group

Did you know one in every 33 children born in America will have a birth defect? That’s one baby born with a defect every four-and-a-half minutes.

Birth defects can range from mild to severe. Some are easily found. Some, such as a heart defect, may not be found for years, if ever. Some birth defects can represent life-long challenges.

What Is a Birth Defect?
A birth defect is a structural abnormality that happens while a baby is developing in the uterus. Defects typically develop in the first three months of pregnancy.

The defect may affect how the body looks, works or both. It can affect any part of the body.

What Can We Do to Prevent Birth Defects?
Not all birth defects can be prevented, but we do have some important steps you can take to improve your baby’s chances for a healthy birth:

  • See your health care provider regularly before, during and after pregnancy. You can receive excellent prenatal guidance from your doctor, a nurse practitioner or a midwife
  • Stop smoking. Your health care provider can offer assistance with quitting.
  • Abstain from alcohol. There is no known safe amount or time to drink during pregnancy. This limitation includes beer and wine. If you’re planning to get pregnant, you should stop drinking as soon as you start trying.
  • Always check with your health care provider before taking any medication, including over-the-counter medications.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight is important prior to pregnancy. If you have diabetes, it is vital that you see your doctor prior to conception to ensure your diabetes is well controlled.
  • Take note if a family member has a birth defect. Genetics may play a role in some birth defects. Make a pre-pregnancy planning appointment if you have concerns.
  • Learn how you can reduce your risks for infections during pregnancy. Your provider can guide you.
  • Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily. You should start at least one month before trying to get pregnant. The amount contained in most prenatal vitamins is adequate!

It’s essential after his or her birth that your new baby receives regular medical check-ups!

Most birth defects are found in the child’s first year of life. The defect may be obvious or require special tests to discover.

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