January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and this year’s theme is “Best for You Best for Baby”. While it’s important to understand that not all birth defects can be prevented, there are ways to improve your chances of having a healthy baby by making sure you are your healthiest self both before and during pregnancy.
By doing what is best for your health, you’ll also be doing what’s best for your baby.
What are birth defects?
A birth defect is defined as a health condition that is present at the time of birth. Usually developing in the first three months when a baby’s organs are forming, they can have a serious impact on a baby’s health and how their body develops. A few examples of birth defects are cleft lip, cleft palate, congenital heart defects, and spina bifida.
In the U.S alone, about 1 in 33 babies are born with a defect each year, according to the CDC.
Genetic, social, and environmental factors all play a big part in a baby’s health, and not all birth defects can be prevented. However, there are certain things that women can do to increase the possibility of a healthy full-term pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Here are five tips to follow to help make sure you’re at your best during pregnancy:
1. See your healthcare provider
It’s always a good idea to pop in for a check-up before pregnancy begins. You can ask any questions you might have, as well as ease any anxieties around your health and pregnancy.
Make sure you talk to your provider about any pre-existing medical conditions and how you should manage them properly going into pregnancy. Talk about which medications you are taking, including both prescription and over the counter medicines. It’s also a good idea to mention any vitamins that you are taking so your doctor can decide if they’re suitable for pregnancy.
2. Give up any unhealthy habits and substances
If you’re a smoker, pregnancy is the time to ditch the habit. Smoking tobacco or marijuana during pregnancy can lead to dangerous chemicals reaching the baby’s bloodstream, damaging the placenta. Cleft lip and palate are directly linked to the smoking of cigarettes.
Giving up alcohol is also a sensible idea during pregnancy. No amount has ever been proven to be safe during pregnancy, and consistent use can cause serious birth defects.
The use of opioids during pregnancy can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) as well as premature birth in babies.
If you find that you’re struggling to give up these habits, it’s important to seek help and cut them out of your lifestyle during pregnancy to do your best to increase your chances of a healthy birth.
3. Make Sure You’re Up-to-Date on Your Vaccinations
Ensure that you are up-to-date on your vaccinations. Ask your healthcare provider about the different vaccines that you’ll need during each trimester, which will include the flu shot and whooping cough booster. It’s also a good idea to make sure other family members are up-to-date with their vaccinations to prevent the spread of disease within the household.
4. Try to Reach A Healthy Weight
Aim to be at a healthy weight before getting pregnant. Carrying excess weight can negatively impact your fertility, and being overweight while pregnant can cause plenty of health problems for both you and your baby.
Being underweight can also affect fertility and cause low birth weight or premature births. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet, as well as taking some time for exercise. If you do struggle with weight issues, discuss a plan with your healthcare provider and find a weight right for you and your health.
5. Increase Your Folic Acid Intake
Take a multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. It’s a good idea to start this habit even before getting pregnant. When taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid, a B vitamin shown to reduce the likelihood of serious birth defects of the spine and brain. Try eating plenty of foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid), which include green leafy vegetables, lentils, orange juice, and black beans.
It’s also a good idea to incorporate foods made from fortified grain products that have folic acid added, like bread, cereals, and pasta. Foods with fortified corn masa flour, such as cornbread, corn tortillas, and tacos are also great options for boosting your folic acid intake.
Consult Metro OBGYN
While unfortunately, it’s impossible to prevent all birth defects, with a little awareness and understanding it’s possible to increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and giving birth to a healthy baby. Remember that if you’re doing the best you can for your health, you’re also doing the best for your baby.
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, we recommend that you make an appointment for a check-up with one of our experienced Metro OBGYN practitioners. Regular check-ups ensure that you are doing all that you can to prevent birth defects for your baby and ensure a healthy pregnancy.