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Understanding Preventable Birth Defects
By Melanie Levy-Meeks, MD
Following a few simple guidelines can increase women’s chances of delivering a healthy baby. These important tips can help prevent birth defects. January is a great time to share these tips as part of National Birth Defects Prevention Month.
Add Folic Acid
Adding folic acid is a simple, yet critical, aspect of prenatal care. Having 400 mcg every day for at least a month before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the developing spine and brain, such as spina bifida. Ideally, starting folic acid supplementation at least three months before conception is even better. Folic acid can be added through supplements or a diet rich in folate, such as dark green leafy vegetables, beans, and peanuts.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity, which is a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, plays a factor during pregnancy. Extra weight can increase a pregnant woman’s chances of serious birth defects as well as add complications to the pregnancy. One of the most common is heart defects. Doctors suggest getting to a healthy weight before getting pregnant.
Avoid Drinking Alcohol
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a range of physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities as well as miscarriage or stillbirth. Alcohol in a woman’s bloodstream is passed along to the developing baby through the umbilical cord. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the result of drinking during pregnancy, and it’s completely preventable. Babies born with this disability are born small and can have problems with learning and behavior, as well as other birth defects.
Keep Diabetes Under Control
It’s essential that women keep diabetes under control before and during pregnancy. Otherwise, it can cause serious complications and increase chances of birth defects.
Women who have high blood sugar when they conceive (with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes) have a greater chance of miscarriage, as well as delivering a baby with birth defects, still birth, or preterm birth. For women with diabetes, high blood sugar throughout pregnancy can increase the risk of delivering a large baby, which can result in several birth complications. These larger babies might also develop obesity or diabetes in the future.
Visit your OB/GYN when you are thinking about having a baby to begin your first step on a healthy pregnancy journey.