Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Key messages from Birth Defects Prevention Month

Monday, January 30th, 2017

MOD dad and babyWe’ve had a busy month spreading the word about birth defects and what you can do to have a healthy pregnancy. If you’ve missed some posts, here’s a one page cheat sheet of key messages.

Birth defects are more common than you’d think.

  • Did you know that every 4.5 minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the U.S.? That’s 1 in 33 babies or more than 120,000 babies each year.
  • Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. They may affect how the body looks, works, or both.
  • Common birth defects include heart defects, cleft lip and cleft palate, Down syndrome and spina bifida. Some birth defects are on the rise for unknown reasons – like gastroschisis.
  • Birth defects are the leading cause of infant deaths in the first year of life in the U.S.
  • Birth defects are the leading cause of death and disability in children across the world.

There are thousands of different birth defects, and about 70 % of the causes are unknown.

  • Birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors including our genes, behaviors and environment.
  • Many birth defects are discovered after the baby leaves the hospital or within the first year of life.
  • Babies who survive and live with birth defects are at an increased risk for long-term disabilities and lifelong challenges.

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but SOME CAN. Here’s how:multivitamin

Share and connect

Birth defects can happen to any family. Share and connect with others on our online community Share Your Story.

Have questions? Email our health education specialists at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

Turtles look cute but are dangerous to pregnant women and young children

Friday, January 27th, 2017

boy w pet turtleIf you’re pregnant or have children under the age of 5, you should remove any reptile or amphibian you may have in your home. That’s because they can carry salmonella, a bacteria that can make you and your children very sick – it can even be life threatening.

The salmonella bacteria is commonly carried by reptiles, such as lizards, snakes and turtles, and amphibians, such as frogs, salamanders and newts. Chickens, ducks and geese can also carry salmonella.

Pregnant women, infants, young children and anyone with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of getting the infection.

The risk of salmonella is so serious that the sale of turtles less than 4 inches in size has been banned in the United States since 1975. These little creatures may look cute but they have the potential to cause serious disease. The CDC warns: “Don’t be fooled Just because you can’t see the bacteria doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”

According to the FDA, the death of a 4-week-old baby in Florida in 2007 “was linked to Salmonella from a small turtle. The DNA of the Salmonella from the turtle matched that from the infant.”

Scary stuff.

How can you get infected with Salmonella?

You can get infected by eating foods that are contaminated with Salmonella, such as poultry, meat and eggs, or by touching an infected animal.

Even if a pet reptile has a negative test for salmonella, it doesn’t mean the animal is not infected. It may mean that the animal was just not “shedding salmonella” on the day it was tested. Salmonella can be found in feces (poop), soil, water (including fish tank water), and the food and bedding of infected animals. Salmonella germs can spread easily to an animal’s fur, feathers and scales.

Symptoms of salmonellosis

Signs of salmonellosis usually start a half day to three days after contact and symptoms last from four to seven days. Call your health care provider right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Belly pain
  • Blood in your stool (poop) or dark or amber-colored urine (pee)
  • Dehydration (not enough water or fluids in your body)
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle pains
  • Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting (throwing up)

To check for salmonellosis, your health care provider will take a stool sample and send it to a lab for testing.

Is Salmonella dangerous during pregnancy?

Yes. It can lead to health complications during pregnancy, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), which can lead to problems, like meningitis, a serious infection that causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord.
  • Reactive arthritis (also called Reiter’s syndrome), which can cause swelling or pain in your joints.

Salmonellosis can be passed to your baby during pregnancy. If your baby is born with salmonellosis, she may have diarrhea and fever after birth. She also may develop meningitis.

Bottom line

Don’t have turtles and other reptiles or amphibians in your home. If you touch them at a petting zoo or other place, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands immediately after coming into contact with them.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

Let someone else clean Mr. Whisker’s litter box when you’re pregnant

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

ToxoplasmosisWe often receive emails from pregnant women concerned about their cat and his litter box. Dirty cat litter might contain a harmful parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis.

If you have toxoplasmosis within 6 months of getting pregnant, you may be able to pass it to your baby during pregnancy. Toxoplasmosis can cause pregnancy complications such as preterm birth (birth before 37 weeks) and stillbirth. The earlier in pregnancy you get infected, the more serious the baby’s problems may be after birth. For example, a baby could have a birth defect called microcephaly or vision problems.

Do you need to find Mr. Whiskers a new home?

The good news is that your cat can stay. But, you should have your partner, a friend, or family member change your cat’s litter for you. If you must change it yourself, be sure you wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

Is it just Mr. Whiskers? Or are there other ways to get toxoplasmosis?

You can also come in contact with the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis through:

  • Eating raw or undercooked meat – be sure to cook meat thoroughly and wash your hands after handling raw meat.
  • Eating unwashed fruits and vegetables – peel or thoroughly wash all raw fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Touching kitchen utensils and cutting boards used to prepare raw or undercooked meat and fruits and vegetables – clean cutting boards, work surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water after using them.
  • Touching dirt or sand – use work gloves when gardening and be sure to wash your hands afterward. Stay away from children’s sandboxes as well.

Pregnancy is a time of many changes, and it’s also a time to ask for help when you need it. Mr. Whiskers won’t mind that someone else is changing his litter box so that you can protect yourself during pregnancy.

For more information on toxoplasmosis, see our web article. Have questions? Text or email us at AskUS@marchofdimes.org.

When in doubt, wash your hands

Friday, January 20th, 2017

washing handsNow that winter has arrived, it seems like the temperatures are decreasing and the spread of germs is increasing. In an effort to stay healthy this season I find myself constantly washing my hands and trying to maintain good hygiene. Hygiene refers to activities, such as hand washing, bathing, and brushing your teeth, that help you stay healthy. Maintaining good hygiene is one of the best ways to help prevent the spread of infections.

Why is washing your hands so important?

Women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by doing things to prevent the risk of infection. Not all birth defects can be prevented, but by including small, healthy hygiene activities into your daily routine, you can help prevent the spread of infections.

So how often, is often?

Wash your hands:

  • Before preparing or eating food
  • After handling raw meat, raw eggs or unwashed vegetables
  • After being around pets or animals
  • After changing diapers or wiping runny noses

Besides washing hands, what else can you do?

Don’t put your child’s food, utensils, cups or pacifiers in your mouth. Children’s saliva or urine may contain cytomegalovirus or CMV, a kind of herpesvirus that women can pass to their baby during pregnancy. CMV can cause problems for some babies, including a birth defect called microcephaly. Be sure to wash your hands every time after touching a child’s bodily fluids.

By making small changes to your hygiene routine, you can help prevent the spread of germs and infections. Have questions? Text or email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

“I just found out I’m pregnant and I haven’t been taking folic acid. What should I do?”

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Pregnant couple with providerThis is a question we often receive through AskUs@marchofdimes.org. The good news is that no matter when you find out you are pregnant, you will still benefit from taking a daily prenatal vitamin that contains 600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid.

Folic acid is B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for normal growth and development. It helps your body make red blood cells that carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body.

Before pregnancy, we recommend taking a daily multivitamin that contains 400 mcg of folic acid to help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine, or neural tube defects. As soon as you find out you are pregnant, begin taking a daily prenatal vitamin with 600 mcg of folic acid. Your health care provider can prescribe prenatal vitamins for you, or you can get them over the counter without a prescription – just be sure to check the label.

Folic acid is important before and during early pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in your baby. However, a pregnant woman needs extra folic acid throughout her pregnancy to help her produce the additional blood cells her body needs. Folic acid also supports the rapid growth of the placenta and your baby, and is needed to produce new DNA (genetic material) as cells multiply.

If you have not been taking a multivitamin that contains folic acid up until now, perhaps you have been getting folic acid from food sources. Fortunately, in the United States, most grain products are fortified with folic acid (such as cereals, breads, pasta, etc.), so you are likely getting a certain amount of folic acid from your diet. Products that say “enriched” or “fortified” usually contain folic acid, but check product labels to be sure.

You also can get folic acid from some fruits and vegetables. When folic acid is naturally found in a food, it’s called folate. Foods that are good sources of folate are:

    • Beans, like lentils, pinto beans and black beans
    • Leafy green vegetables, like spinach and Romaine lettuce
    • Asparagus
    • Broccoli
    • Peanuts (But don’t eat them if you have a peanut allergy)
    • Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit
    • Orange juice (From concentrate is best)

Folic acid is very important throughout your pregnancy, so even if you have been eating the foods listed, you should still take a prenatal vitamin with the recommended amount of folic acid.

Have questions? Text or email us at AskUS@marchofdimes.org

New year – healthy you

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Today we welcome guest blogger Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH, Executive Director, The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative.

January brings a time for reflection and a fresh start; a time when many women re-evaluate or set new goals. Health aims such as losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, sleeping more and stopping smoking are important and often on the top of many women’s lists.

Well woman visitHere’s one that should top yours in 2017:

Go for your annual well woman visit.

Why?

For one, we still have the Affordable Care Act, so preventive services, like an annual well woman visit, should be covered by insurance with no out-of-pocket costs. This means if you have health insurance and the provider is covered under that plan, the visit shouldn’t cost you anything. While this may not yet be true for all health plans, it is likely a benefit you have that you didn’t know was available.

“I’m healthy – so I don’t need to see a doctor. Right?”

Being healthy doesn’t mean you can skip the wellness visit. This annual check-up is more than an overall physical and mental screen – this is a time to talk to your doctor about your questions and get help on those health resolutions. Your doctor can help you stay on track with ways you can set yourself up for success, from the inside out. He or she can also help you take preventative measures if starting a family is not in your plans. And if you hope 2017 will bring the stork your way, this is a critical place to start.

So, is a wellness visit more than just the dreaded pelvic exam?

YES!

A well woman visit has often been thought of as primarily an appointment for a pelvic exam, but it is a much more comprehensive visit than that! In fact, a well visit may not even need to include a pelvic exam anymore. The contents of a well woman’s visit are up to each woman and her provider. Her visit could include nutrition and diet counseling, immunizations, family planning, and screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, anxiety, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

To make the most of a visit, you can create a list of questions and concerns to discuss during your appointment. Be sure to bring up if you would like to become pregnant in the next year. Whether you want to start a family or not- there are vital lifestyle, behavior and contraception topics to discuss to be sure you’re tracking toward your reproductive goals. Especially if you’re planning a trip south, ask about the Zika virus and ways you can protect yourself. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and a trip to the doctor is an essential step to #Prevent2Protect.

Where can you learn more?

The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative, a public-private partnership of 70+ national organizations working to advance preconception health, launched Show Your Love, the first national preconception consumer resource and campaign. On this site, you’ll find what you need to know about well visits and preconception health care. Show Your Love website and social media campaign is meant to spark action for consumers to “Show Your Love”—to yourself, your significant other, and your family/future family—by preventing to protect and taking care of your health today.

Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPHSarah Verbiest is Executive Director at UNC Center for Maternal & Infant Health. She serves as Director of the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative (PCHHC), a public-private partnership of over 70 organizations focused on improving the health of young women and men and any children they may choose to have. Sarah is also a clinical associate professor at the UNC School of Social Work.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @S_Verbiest or connect with her on LinkedIn.

“Why am I crying all the time?”

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

cryingIf you’re pregnant, you may notice that tears come more easily to you. One of my pregnant friends started crying as she watched a Flintstones cartoon rerun of Pebbles and Bam-Bam as they got married. Another girlfriend burst into tears while watching a pet adoption commercial!  You may find that you cry much more easily at events or situations that previously would never have made you shed a tear.

What causes the extra tears?

Your changing hormones.

From the time you conceive, the hormones estrogen and progesterone start rising. This increase in your hormones causes changes in the chemicals that send signals to your brain to regulate your mood. You may find yourself crying more often or becoming irritated easily. These mood swings are a normal part of pregnancy, especially in the first trimester.

New responsibilities and impending life changes.

A lot is happening in preparation for your newest addition and your to-do list just got longer, especially if you are pregnant around the holidays. The change may be welcomed, but it can also make you feel stressed. The realization that your baby will be entirely dependent on you soon  can seem overwhelming.

Ways to cope

  • Join our online community Share Your Story. You may find it helpful to connect and talk with other women going through a similar experience – you may even find someone getting teary eyed at the same rerun episode.
  • Try to get a good night’s sleep every day or take cat naps.  Getting enough Zzzs will help you handle any irritation or stress that comes your way.
  • Eat healthy meals and snacks.
  • Try relaxation activities, like prenatal yoga or meditation. Or squeeze a walk into your afternoon – even ten minutes of brisk walking can reduce stress!
  • Chat with your prenatal care provider. Often, just voicing your concerns and listening to a trusted professional can be enormously calming.

Fortunately, many women find their moods become more manageable in the second trimester. But, if you find you are feeling down or have symptoms of depression that last more than two weeks, or are feeling overly stressed, speak with your prenatal provider. There is much that can be done to help you feel better.

Have questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

Three quarters of a century young (yes – we’re 79 years old!)

Monday, December 19th, 2016

fdr-warm-springs-kidsIt’s that time of year, when magazines are full of stories and photos of the year in review, and people look back to take stock of their accomplishments. This post is taking it a step further…here is a celebration of our past 79 years!

Why the dimes? (we get this question a lot)

The March of Dimes was started in 1938 when Franklin Roosevelt’s personal struggle with polio led him to create the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. It was a time when polio was on the rise nationwide. The name for the fundraiser “March of Dimes” was coined by comedian and radio personality Eddie Cantor as a pun on a popular movie newsreel of the era, The March of Time. Cantor asked his radio audience to send dimes to the White House to help polio patients and support research. After billions of dimes were received, the organization became known as the March of Dimes. The end result of this effort was the development of the polio vaccines, which have almost completely rid the world of this disabling disease.

check in boxIt is very unusual for a nonprofit organization to fulfill its mission as completely as that of the March of Dimes. So, when the March of Dimes checked off the box on the successful development of the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines, we turned our focus to that of preventing birth defects and infant mortality. With thousands of birth defects on record, we’ve had our hands full.

Our work after polio

The March of Dimes has funded research looking for the underlying genetic causes of birth defects to help us better understand what can go wrong and hopefully how to prevent them. We’ve funded research into the development of surfactant therapy to treat breathing problems in premature infants, which has saved thousands of lives since 1990. We’ve successfully championed and promoted newborn screening so that more infants with devastating conditions are identified and treated in a timely manner; and we led the campaign to add folic acid to grain foods in the United States, thereby reducing serious birth defects of the brain and spine by 27%.

We began educating the public on how to have a healthy pregnancy by producing a robust website of articles, print materials, this blog, and using social media to help women understand what they can do to have a full-term, healthy baby. We began answering individual health questions from the public in 1996 and still continue to answer thousands of questions every year.

But we didn’t stop there.

Our work with babies, birth defects and infant mortality provided a natural transition into fighting premature birth, the number 1 cause of deathPassing the time while your baby is in the NICU among babies in the U.S. Nearly 1 in 10 babies is born prematurely. Despite the advances in neonatal medicine, many babies still die, and the ones who survive often face a lifetime of disability – from mild to severe. In short, it is simply something that we knew we needed to fight.

So, in 2003 we launched our Prematurity Campaign. And in 2011, we launched the first of five prematurity research centers, each one staffed by the best and brightest scientists, and each one focused on a different aspect of prematurity. The best part of this 5-pronged approach is that the researchers all talk to one another and collaborate, encouraging synergy. Our goal is to be as successful with ending prematurity as we were with eliminating polio.

We also continued in the quest to allow folic acid to be added to corn masa flour in the U.S., and…drum roll please…we were successful this year! This is very important for the Hispanic community as corn masa flour is a staple for many Hispanic families. Fortifying corn masa flour products such as tortilla chips, tacos, and tamales, with folic acid will help prevent more devastating neural tube birth defects like Spina Bifida.

Wait…there’s more…

In the meantime, another related mission has surfaced – stopping the Zika virus. The devastating effects that Zika can have on a developing baby are well documented (microcephaly, congenital Zika syndrome, and developmental delays).

The March of Dimes led a coalition of almost 100 organizations to educate Congress about the dangers of Zika and was successful in the passage of federal funding to combat the virus. We continue to raise awareness with our #ZAPzika campaign to let women know how to protect themselves. By working with the CDC, we‘re educating the public about this virus so that pregnant women can protect themselves and their babies from Zika.

Yes. We’ve been very busy. The past 78 years have gone by quite fast.

Is there anything else in our future? Glad you asked!

A new March of Dimes President.

With the start of 2017, we will be under the leadership of President, Stacey D. Stewart, MBA, a woman of experience, intelligence, creativity and integrity. We’re so excited to welcome her.

The mission of the March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

We are confident that under the leadership of Ms. Stewart, we will once again check off the box on a mission accomplished.

 

 

Holiday foods and pregnancy don’t always mix

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Holiday mealThis time of year is often filled with family dinners, holiday parties and gatherings full of delicious food and lots of drinks. If you’re pregnant or thinking about pregnancy, you may need to reconsider indulging in some of your usual favorites.

Here’s a list of “no’s” and “maybes” to help you through your holiday celebration.

The no’s – foods to definitely avoid

  • Holiday spirits & cocktails: Drinking alcohol at any time during pregnancy can cause serious health problems for your baby. But, this doesn’t mean you need to miss the party – read our tips and substitutions to keep your holiday celebration going.
  • Soft cheeses: Unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco, queso fresco and Panela can cause listeriosis, a kind of food poisoning caused by listeria bacteria.
  • Raw or lightly cooked eggs or foods made with them, including cake batter, raw cookie dough and soft-scrambled eggs: These foods can contain salmonella bacteria, which can cause another type of food poisoning that can be dangerous during pregnancy.
  • Unpasteurized juice, milk or any foods made with unpasteurized ingredients are also a listeriosis and salmonella risk.

The maybes

  • Eggnog: Store-bought is usually ok, but you must check the label before drinking it. Read how to safely buy eggnog from a store. Homemade eggnog can contain raw or undercooked eggs. Our safe homemade recipe will help you create your own version that you can enjoy worry-free this year.
  • Coffee and hot chocolate: We don’t know a lot about the effects of caffeine during pregnancy so limit the caffeine you get each day to 200 milligrams. This is about the amount in 1½ 8-ounce cups or one 12-ounce cup of coffee. An 8 ounce cup of hot cocoa has 3-13 mg.
  • Holiday ham & meats: Be sure all meat is cooked thoroughly and never eat raw or undercooked meat, which can contain salmonella.
  • Too much sugar: During the holidays, you will find many desserts have added sugar or chocolate, which can put a dent in your healthy balanced diet. If you are eyeing that chocolate pie, try substituting another item with less sugar, to keep your overall sugar intake within reason. For example, switch out your juice for sparkling water with lemon.

With these ideas and a little extra attention to labels and how much you eat, you will be able to enjoy all your holiday festivities.

Have questions? Text or email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Traveling for the holidays? Pack your bug spray (or check travel advisories first)

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

travel-by-airTis the season to book a relaxing vacation, or maybe a long weekend to visit family. If you’ve already pulled out your suitcase to start packing, take a minute to check your destination for Zika travel advisories. If you’re traveling to a Zika affected area, you may need to do some extra planning.

If a woman gets infected with Zika during pregnancy, she can pass it to her baby. It can cause a birth defect called congenital Zika syndrome and may cause other developmental problems. But even if you’re not pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant soon, you still need to learn how to protect yourself from Zika. Even men need to protect themselves from Zika.

The areas where Zika has had cases of local transmission (acquired through a mosquito bite) are being updated continually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For example, recently, health officials in South Texas believe they have identified their first locally transmitted case of Zika in a woman living in Brownsville. This is in addition to cases found in Florida, as well as many other places in the world.

The CDC has travel advisories posted for Zika affected areas – check them before you hit the road.  

Remember, if you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, talk to your health care provider before you travel. When traveling to an affected area, keep up to date on what to know BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER your visit to keep yourself and your family safe!

And don’t forget to sign up to receive Zika updates for your destination with CDC’s new text messaging service. Text PLAN to 855-255-5606 to subscribe.

Have questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org.