If you are planning to become pregnant in 2021, protecting yourself and making healthy choices are more important now more than ever as we continue to face the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. January is Birth Defects Prevention Month. Here are some tips to help you have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Birth defects are structural changes that affect one or more parts of the body, like the heart, brain or foot. They develop most often during the first three months of pregnancy, when a baby’s organs are forming. Birth defects can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops and how it functions. Common birth defects include congenital heart defects, cleft lip and left palate and spina bifida.
Your genetics, behaviors and social and environmental factors can impact the risk of birth defects. Unfortunately, not all birth defects can be prevented. However, there are things you can do to increase your chance of having a healthy, full-term pregnancy and baby – and this month is the perfect time to learn about them.
Here are six actions you can take:
- Protect yourself from COVID-19. Stay safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing. Remember to check for new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to stay safe.
- Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy, take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects in your baby. Eat foods that contain folate, the natural form of folic acid, such as lentils, green leafy vegetables, black beans, orange juice and foods made from fortified grain products (some breads and breakfast cereals) and fortified corn masa flour (corn tortillas, tacos).
- Get a pre-pregnancy checkup. Talk to your health care provider about managing your health conditions and creating a treatment plan before each pregnancy.
- Stay up-to-date on vaccines. Speak with your health care provider about the vaccines you need during each pregnancy to help protect yourself and your baby against serious diseases. Ask your health care provider about when the COVID-19 vaccine will be available for you.
- Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight. Being overweight or underweight can affect your fertility. During pregnancy, obesity can increase the risk of having a baby with a birth defect and other complications. Talk to your health care provider about how to get to a healthy weight before getting pregnant. Maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes eating healthy foods and regular physical activity.
- Avoid substances like tobacco, alcohol and drugs during pregnancy. Smoking cigarettes can cause certain birth defects, like cleft lip and palate. Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, so it’s important to stop drinking alcohol when you start trying to get pregnant. And using opioids while pregnant can cause serious problems for your baby, like preterm birth and drug withdrawal called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Women should consult their physician before stopping or changing any prescribed medication.
To learn more about preventing birth defects, watch this video to prepare for pregnancy and your baby. You also can join our Twitter Chat on Jan. 26, 2021, at 2 p.m. ET by following @MarchofDimes on Twitter and using the hashtag #Best4YouBest4Baby to ask questions.