January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month

Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. They can cause serious problems in your baby’s overall health, how his body develops and how his/her body works. National Birth Defects Prevention Month is a time to spread the word that there are things you can do to help prevent birth defects in your baby.

In the U.S., about 1 in 33 babies is born with a birth defect each year, according to the CDC. These structural changes present at birth can affect one or more parts of the body (e.g., heart, brain, foot) and mostly develop in the first three months when a baby’s organs are forming. Common birth defects include congenital heart defects, cleft lip and left palate and spina bifida.

We know that an individual’s genetics, social and environmental factors, and behaviors can have an impact on birth defects and that not all birth defects can be prevented. But we also know about things that can help increase a woman’s chances of having a healthy, full-term pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Here are 5 tips to follow to help you be a healthy mom and have a strong baby:

  1. Take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, even before you become pregnant. If taken before and throughout pregnancy, folic acid, a B vitamin, is proven to help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine. It’s also a good idea to eat foods that contain folate, the natural form of folic acid, including lentils, green leafy vegetables, black beans and orange juice. Eat foods made from fortified grain products, which have folic acid added, such as bread, pasta and cereals and foods made from fortified corn masa flour, such as cornbread, corn tortillas, tacos and tamales.
  2. See your health care provider in the New Year for a pre-pregnancy checkup. Be sure to talk to them about all your medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines and any vitamins and supplements. Ask your doctor about managing health conditions before becoming pregnant.
  3. Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. Ask your health care provider about vaccinations you need during each pregnancy, including the flu shot and the pertussis (whooping cough) booster. It is also a great idea to make sure vaccinations are current for everyone in your family to help prevent the spread of diseases.
  4. Try to reach a healthy weight before you get pregnant. Excess weight can affect your fertility; during pregnancy, it can cause problems for you and your baby. Talk to your health care provider about how to reach the right weight for you. Focus on a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity.
  5. Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful substances during pregnancy.
    a. Smoking substances such as tobacco or marijuana during pregnancy can cause dangerous chemicals to damage the placenta and/or reach the baby’s bloodstream. Smoking cigarettes is a cause of certain birth defects, like cleft lip and palate.
    b. No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy, and its use can cause major birth defects.
    c. Opioid use in pregnancy can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and premature birth in babies.
    d. If you need help to quit, talk to your health care provider or contact:
         i.  Smokefree.gov (1-800-QUIT-NOW);
         ii. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or Findtreatment.gov.

Learn more from the CDC by visiting their website here.

Last reviewed: December, 2019