MARCH OF DIMES RAISES AWARENESS DURING NATIONAL BIRTH DEFECTS PREVENTION MONTH - Proactive steps to decrease the rate of birth defects are highlighted
| Friday, January 1, 2016
Maitland, Florida, January 01, 2016 —
In honor of January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the March of Dimes – the leader in mom and baby health and a founding member of the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) – is raising awareness about birth defects, the frequency with which they occur, and the steps that can be taken to prevent them.
Birth defects – a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States – are defined as any abnormality of structure or function, whether inherited or acquired in utero and presenting in infancy or early childhood. The known causes include genetic problems, chromosomal abnormalities, and factors in the baby’s immediate environment. Public awareness, expert medical care, accurate and early diagnosis, and social support systems are all essential for optimal prevention and treatment of these all-too-common conditions.
Every year in Florida, about 6,500 babies are born with a birth defect, including heart defects, cleft lip/palate, Down syndrome, and spina bifida (open spine). Some defects have minor effects on a baby’s health, while others cause lifelong disabilities. A few birth defects can be treated or managed before, at, or after birth, improving outcomes for the baby.
“Most people are unaware of how common, costly, and critical birth defects are in the United States, or that there are steps that can be taken to reduce their risk,” says Dr. Karen Harris, Chair of the Program Services Committee for the Florida Chapter of the March of Dimes. “Making an effort to have a healthy lifestyle, visiting a health care provider before pregnancy, and taking a multivitamin containing folic acid every day can go a long way.”
Among the preventive measures that can be taken are abstaining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy and consuming folic acid every day, beginning before pregnancy.
Prenatal exposure to alcohol is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities in children. The March of Dimes stresses that no amount of alcohol is safe to drink at any time during pregnancy.
Consuming folic acid prior to pregnancy and into the first trimester is a proven way to prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs).
January 10th – 16th is recognized as Folic Acid Awareness Week, a time when the March of Dimes reminds all women of childbearing age that daily intake of a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid – beginning before and continuing through the early months of pregnancy – is crucial, because NTDs occur in the first few weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing a petition filed by the March of Dimes and five partner organizations to fortify corn masa flour products in the U.S. with folic acid. If accepted by the FDA, this petition would lead to the fortification of all corn masa flour and related products with folic acid. Mandatory fortification of wheat flour and products made from it was established by the FDA in 1996 and fully implemented in 1998. Subsequently, U.S. NTD rates dropped dramatically.
Women of childbearing age are also encouraged to eat foods rich in folate, such as fortified breakfast cereals, leafy green vegetables, oranges, peanuts, enriched grain products, and beans. Other important, proactive steps they can take to help prevent birth defects and have a healthy baby are:
• Reach and maintain a healthy weight
• Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illegal drugs
• Prevent infections
• Avoid environmental toxins
• See a health care provider regularly and discuss family history, taking any medications, and vaccinations
March of Dimes has been successful in advocating for the Florida Birth Defects Registry – a population-based surveillance system that identifies birth defects in babies born in Florida since 1999 – to be fully funded. When the registry was in danger of shutting its doors a few years ago, March of Dimes volunteers lobbied the Florida legislature via office visits, letters, and other advocacy efforts to fully fund and staff it.
The registry helps identify excessive occurrences of birth defects and is the foundation for the epidemiological research needed to evaluate suspected clusters. Reducing the human and economic costs of birth defects represents an important public health opportunity to improve the overall quality of life for all of Florida’s families.
About the March of Dimes
The March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. For more than 75 years, moms and babies have benefited from March of Dimes research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.org or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook at @marchofdimesflorida, Twitter at @marchofdimesfl, and Instagram at @marchofdimesflorida.
About March of Dimes
March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.