January is 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 her body develops and how her body works. 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 United States, about 1 in every 33 babies (or about 120,000) is born with a birth defect each year. Common birth defects include congenital heart defects, cleft lip and left palate and spina bifida.

You can’t always prevent birth defects in your baby. But if you’re pregnant or thinking about having a baby, here are five things you can do to help reduce the risk of birth defects and improve your chances of having a full-term pregnancy and a healthy baby:

  1. Get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy to help make sure you’re healthy when you get pregnant. A preconception checkup is especially important if you’ve already had a baby with a birth defect. Your health care provider can check your overall health and make sure any medicines you take are safe to take during pregnancy. Being exposed to certain medicines or infections in the womb can sometimes cause birth defects in a baby. 
  2. Take folic acid before and during early pregnancy. This can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (also called NTDs) in your baby. Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for normal growth and development. Before pregnancy, take a vitamin supplement that has 400 micrograms of folic acid in it every day. During pregnancy, take a prenatal vitamin that has 600 micrograms of folic acid in it every day. Take a vitamin supplement with folic acid every day, even if you’re not trying to get pregnant. 
  3. Get to a healthy weight before you get pregnant. Talk to your provider about a healthy weight for you. Eat healthy foods and do something active every day. 
  4. Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. Ask your provider about vaccinations you need before pregnancy, including the flu shot and the pertussis (whooping cough) booster. It’s also a great idea to make sure vaccinations are current for everyone in your family to help prevent the spread of harmful diseases.
  5. Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful drugs during pregnancy. All of these can cause serious health problems for your baby. For example, chemicals from smoking can damage the placenta and pass to your baby through the umbilical cord. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy makes your baby more likely to be born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and have birth defects and a group of conditions called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs). Using harmful drugs called opioids during pregnancy can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and premature birth. If you need help to quit smoking, drinking alcohol or using harmful drugs, tell your provider or contact:

Learn more about preventing birth defects from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Last reviewed: January, 2019