January: National Birth Defect Prevention Month
Author: Shannon Miller Lifestyle
If you missed Shannon’s program last weekend about staying healthy during pregnancy, you can listen to the
January 28th Shannon Miller Radio Show Archive from AM690/106.5FM WOKV – hear Shannon interviewing St. Vinecent’s HealthCare experts on the topic of pregnancy health!
While all birth defects cannot be prevented, there are some healthy things a woman can do to increase the chances of having a healthy baby.
Many birth defects can happen early on in pregnancy before a woman even knows she is pregnant. That is why taking care of yourself should be a way of life.
Here are a few good ways to get your body ready for pregnancy:
- Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. We have talked about the importance of this before in a previous article about getting the right nutrients during pregnancy. Folic acid is a B vitamin. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body at least 1 month before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.
- Don’t drink alcohol. Whatever you are drinking, so is your unborn baby. Alcohol in the woman’s blood passes through the placenta to her baby through the umbilical cord. There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. There also is no safe time during pregnancy to drink and no safe kind of alcohol. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
- Don’t smoke. There are so many dangers of smoking during pregnancy including premature birth, certain birth defects (cleft lip or cleft palate), and infant death. Even being around cigarette smoke puts a woman and her unborn baby at risk for problems. Quit smoking before you get pregnant. For a woman who is already pregnant, quitting as early as possible can still help protect against some health problems for the baby, such as low birth weight. It’s never too late to stop smoking!
- Don’t use illegal drugs. A woman who uses illegal or “street” drugs during pregnancy can have a baby who is born premature; is low birth weight; or has other health problems, such as birth defects. A woman who uses cocaine while pregnant is more likely to have a baby with birth defects of the arms, legs, urinary system, and heart. Other drugs, such as marijuana and ecstasy, also can cause birth defects among babies. Please note that it is also very important that a woman not use “street” drugs after she gives birth, these drugs can be passed through breast milk to her baby and can affect the baby’s growth and development.
- Talk to a doctor about taking any medications. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, you should not stop taking medications you need or begin taking new medications without first talking with your doctor. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary or herbal products.
- Prevent infections. Some infections that a woman can get during pregnancy can be harmful to the unborn baby. It is very important to learn how to help prevent infections.
- Talk to your doctor about vaccinations. Not all vaccinations are safe during pregnancy. Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep a woman and her baby healthy.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight. I know this can be a tough one! But a woman who is obese before pregnancy is at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy. Obesity in the woman also increases the risk of several serious birth defects for the baby. Talk to your doctor about some healthy ways to reach your right weight before you become pregnant.
- See a health care professional regularly. A woman should get prenatal care as soon as she thinks that she is pregnant. It is important to see the doctor regularly throughout pregnancy, no skipping appointments.