Archive for the ‘Planning for Baby’ Category

STDs can be harmful to you and your baby

Friday, April 8th, 2016

Pregnant woman talking with doctorSexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause problems such as premature birth, ectopic pregnancy, birth defects, miscarriage or stillbirth. Most babies get infected with an STD through the birth canal during labor and birth, but other STDs can cross the placenta and infect your baby in the womb.

What can you do?

April is STD awareness month, and this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have come up with three steps to prevent or treat a STD:  Talk, Test and Treat.

Talk

Have a conversation with your sexual partner about the last time you were tested and how you both plan to have safe sex. You should also talk with your healthcare provider about STD testing and to make sure your vaccines are up to date. Certain vaccines, such as the HPV vaccine, can help protect against genital warts.

Life can get busy; if you aren’t sure of the last time you were tested for STDs or if you received a certain vaccine, a visit with your provider is the best time to ask.

Test

Many people with STDs don’t know they’re infected because some STDs have no symptoms. And if you’re pregnant, STDs can be harmful to pregnant women and their babies. See your healthcare provider and get tested.

Treat

If you find out you have an STD, get treatment right away. Receiving treatment can help protect you and your baby during pregnancy and birth.

Don’t wait. Be sure to talk, test and treat to protect your health and that of your baby.

Read our top STD questions answered for lots more info.  

 

Thinking of having a baby? Now is the time to stop drinking alcohol

Monday, April 4th, 2016

2015D015_3603_rtYou’ve probably heard that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby. But did you know you should also stop drinking alcohol before trying to conceive?

It can be difficult to determine an accurate date of conception. It takes two weeks after conception to get an accurate pregnancy test result. This means that you may be drinking alcoholic beverages during the early stages of your pregnancy, before you learn you are pregnant.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a range of serious problems including miscarriage, premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and stillbirth. The National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) states that alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of birth defects, developmental disabilities, and learning disabilities.

FASDs can be costly, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The lifetime cost for one individual with FAS in 2002 was estimated to be $2 million. This is an average for people with FAS and does not include data on people with other FASDs. People with severe problems, such as profound intellectual disability, have much higher costs. It is estimated that the cost to the United States for FAS alone is over $4 billion annually.

The good news is that FASD is entirely preventable. If you stop drinking alcohol before and during pregnancy, you can prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and other conditions caused by alcohol.

So if you are trying to become pregnant or are already pregnant, steer clear of alcohol. If you have problems stopping, visit us for tips.

If you have a child with FASD, see our post on how to help babies born with FASD.

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

Your developing baby

Friday, March 18th, 2016

There are specific times during a baby’s development when a certain body part is especially vulnerable to damage from harmful substances and exposures. These substances can include alcohol, medications, and cigarette smoking. The chart below shows these critical periods. If something interferes or disrupts development during these times, the result may be a birth defect.

developing baby

*Image courtesy of NOFAS.

Birth defects

The dark blue segments on the picture above show when certain body parts are most at risk for major birth defects. Major birth defects cause significant medical problems and may require surgery or other treatment. Some examples of major birth defects include heart defects and spina bifida.

The light blue sections of the chart show periods when fetal development is susceptible to minor birth defects and functional defects. Minor birth defects do not cause significant problems and usually do not require medical intervention, such as treatment or surgery. Minor birth defects include things like the shape of the ears or certain facial features. Functional defects affect how a part of the body works. For example, hearing loss can be a functional defect.

Timing of exposures

According to MotherToBaby, “Harmful exposures during the first trimester have the greatest risk of causing major birth defects. This is because of the many, important developmental changes that take place during this time. The major structures of the body form in the first trimester. These include the spine, head, arms and legs.  The baby’s organs also begin to develop. Some examples of these organs are the heart, intestines and lungs.”

While exposures during the first trimester do pose the greatest risk of birth defects, exposures during the second and third trimester can cause problems with growth as well as minor birth defects. Factors that affect growth can put babies at risk for other health problems.

The brain continues to develop throughout pregnancy, after the baby is born, and into young adulthood. Harmful substances and exposures during the second and third trimester can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities.

Planning for pregnancy is important

Looking at the chart above, it is easy to see why preconception care is so important. Crucial fetal development happens very early in pregnancy– in many cases, before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. Seeing your health care provider BEFORE pregnancy and discussing any medications you are taking and underlying medical conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, can help you be better prepared for pregnancy and to reduce your risk of birth defects.

*We would like to thank the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) for allowing us to use their fetal development chart. Please visit their website for more important information about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

Eat, sleep, and repeat

Monday, March 7th, 2016

sleepAs your belly is getting bigger, your hours of sleep may be getting smaller. Lack of sleep is a common complaint we hear from pregnant women. Trying to get comfortable, rearranging pillows and having to get up to use the bathroom are only a few of the culprits that can cause lack of sleep.

But getting a good night’s sleep is crucial– just as important as eating nutritious food and drinking enough water. Eating, staying hydrated and sleeping are the foundations to good health and a happy pregnancy.

Trouble sleeping doesn’t just happen late in pregnancy though; sleeplessness can happen right from the beginning. The same pregnancy hormone that causes fatigue during the day can disrupt your sleep cycle at night. And if you have added anxiety or stress, this will only increase the problem.

This week, the National Sleep Foundation is celebrating its annual Sleep Awareness Week. If you do not get the sleep you need, your body will probably not operate as it should. Your judgment and reaction times may be negatively affected. Simple things like driving a car can be severely impacted with lack of sleep – it’s as dangerous a combination as drinking alcohol and driving.

So between bathroom trips and rearranging pillows, try to catch up on sleep where you can. Here are tried and true tips, which should help.

For more information on how to get a restful night’s sleep, and when to see a doctor regarding possible sleep problems, see this handy guide.

Have questions?  Email or text AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

The impact of rare diseases

Monday, February 29th, 2016

rare-disease-dayIn the U.S., any disease affecting fewer than 200,000 people is considered rare. Today, the last day of February is Rare Disease Day, an international advocacy day to spread awareness of rare diseases and their impact on patients’ lives.

There are nearly 7,000 rare diseases affecting 25 million Americans and 400 million people worldwide. At least 50% of these rare diseases affect children. Rare diseases include many birth defects, genetic disorders and chromosomal abnormalities.

A patient with a rare disease may face severe health outcomes including physical and intellectual disabilities and premature death. Often the lack of scientific knowledge and information on a rare disease can result in a delay in diagnosis. In addition, a rare disease not only affects the individual; it affects an entire family.

Rare Disease Day aims to raise awareness not only to the public, but amongst policy makers, public authorities, researchers and health professionals.  Many advancements in national plans and policies related to rare diseases has been attributed to the awareness that this day has cultivated. There is still much to do, but progress is being made every day toward the development of knowledge, research and treatment advances for rare disease patients.

Do you or someone you know have a rare disease? Feel free to share your story with us.

 

Preconception health for dads

Friday, February 12th, 2016

becoming a dadWe talk a lot about getting a woman’s body ready for pregnancy. But what about men? Dad’s health before pregnancy is important too. Here are a few things men can do if they are thinking about having a baby in the future.

Avoid toxic substances in your workplace and at home

If you and your partner are trying to get pregnant, it may be more difficult if you are exposed to the following substances:

  • Metals (like mercury or lead)
  • Products that contain lots of chemicals (like certain cleaning solutions, pesticides or gases)
  • Radioactive waste, radiation or other dangerous substances (like drugs to treat cancer or X-rays)

Read more about how to protect yourself at work and at home here.

Get to a healthy weight

Obesity is associated with male infertility. And people who are overweight have a higher risk for conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and possibly some cancers.

Prevent STDs

A sexually transmitted disease (also called STD) is an infection that you can get from having sex with someone who is infected. You can get an STD from vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Many people with STDs don’t know they’re infected because some STDs have no symptoms. About 19 million people get an STD each year in the United States.

It is important to continue to protect yourself and your partner from STDs during pregnancy. STDs can be harmful to pregnant women and their babies and cause problems, such as premature birth, birth defects, miscarriage, and stillbirth.

Stop smoking, using street drugs, and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol

All of these behaviors are harmful to your health. Being around people who smoke is dangerous for pregnant women and babies. Being exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy can cause your baby to be born with low birthweight.

Secondhand smoke is dangerous to your baby after birth. Babies who are around secondhand smoke are more likely than babies who aren’t to have health problems, like pneumonia, ear infections, asthma, and bronchitis. They’re also more likely to die of SIDS.

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and using street drugs can negatively affect a man’s fertility.

Know your family’s health history

Your family health history is a record of any health conditions and treatments that you, your partner and everyone in both of your families have had. It can help you find out about medical problems that run in your family that may affect your baby. Taking your family health history can help you make important health decisions. Knowing about health conditions before or early in pregnancy can help you and your health care provider decide on treatments and care for your baby.

Be supportive of your partner

Help your partner. If she is trying to quit smoking, make sure you support her efforts—and join her if you need to quit too! If she has a medical condition, encourage her to see her doctor.

Even before pregnancy, dads play an important role in their baby’s lives, so make sure you are planning for the future too.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Antidepressant use and what it means for pregnant women

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Doctor with womanMore than 15% of reproductive-aged women have filled a prescription for an antidepressant medication during the years 2008-2013 according to a new analysis released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

An antidepressant is a medication used to treat depression. Some commonly used antidepressants are sertraline (Zoloft), bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban), and citalopram (Celexa).

Why is this important?

There is conflicting evidence about the potential link between some antidepressants and certain birth defects.  Antidepressant medication use during pregnancy has been increasing in the U.S. Given that 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned, antidepressant use may  occur during the first weeks of pregnancy, a critical time for fetal development.

Further research on antidepressant safety during pregnancy is needed so that health care providers can advise women about the potential risks and benefits of using certain antidepressants before, during and between pregnancies.

What is being done?

The CDC’s initiative, Treating for Two: Safer Medication Use in Pregnancy, provides women and their health care providers with reliable and accessible information on common medication used during pregnancy. The CDC aims to expand and accelerate research on prescription antidepressant use during pregnancy so that women have up-to-date information and providers can make informed treatment decisions and prescribe the safest medications.

What can you do?

If you are thinking about pregnancy or are  pregnant, speak with your prenatal care provider about any medications you are taking.

If you’re taking an antidepressant and find out you’re pregnant, don’t stop taking the medicine without talking to your provider first. Not taking your medicine may be harmful to your baby, and it may make your depression come back.

Bottom line

Talk with all of your providers about the benefits and risks of taking an antidepressant during pregnancy and decide together on your treatment plan.

Anencephaly: causes, risks & what you can do

Monday, January 25th, 2016

About 1,206 pregnancies are affected by anencephaly each year in the U.S.

Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain, skull and scalp. As a baby’s neural tube develops and closes, it helps form the baby’s brain and skull, spinal cord, and back bones. Anencephaly is a type of neural tube defect (NTD) that happens if the upper part of the neural tube does not close all the way. A baby with anencephaly will be missing large parts of the brain that are necessary for thinking, hearing, vision, emotion and coordinating movement. Other parts of the brain are often not covered by bone or skin.

Babies born with anencephaly have reflexes such as breathing and response to touch and sound, however because of the severity of the condition, almost all babies with anencephaly die before birth or within a few hours or days after birth.

What causes anencephaly?

In most cases, the cause is unknown. Some cases are caused by a change in the baby’s genes or chromosomes. Anencephaly may also be caused by a combination of genes and other environmental factors. Scientists are continuing to study anencephaly in order to discover the causes.

What are the risk factors?

  • Low intake of folic acid before getting pregnant and in early pregnancy increases the risk of having a pregnancy affected by a NTD including anencephaly.
  • Babies born to Hispanic mothers are at an increased risk for anencephaly; reasons for the increased risk are not well understood.

How is anencephaly diagnosed?

  • During pregnancy: a woman can have screening tests done during her prenatal visits. Anencephaly would result in an abnormal result on a blood or serum screening test. Anencephaly might be seen during an ultrasound.
  • After a baby is born: anencephaly is immediately seen at birth.

Is there anything you can do to lower your risk?

Yes.

  • Take a multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and early in pregnancy. Make sure to take your multivitamin even if you are not thinking about becoming pregnant any time soon. Since the U.S. started requiring that folic acid be added to certain foods, there has been a 28% reduction in cases of babies born with NTDs.
  • If you are pregnant, make sure you go to all of your prenatal visits and eat a well-balanced diet
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking and talk to your provider about any medications or drugs you are taking.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

What you need to know about birth defects

Monday, January 18th, 2016

snugglingEvery 4 ½ minutes in the US, a baby is born with a birth defect. That means that nearly 120,000 (or 1 in every 33) babies are affected by birth defects each year. They are a leading cause of death in the first year of life, causing one in every five infant deaths and they lead to $2.6 billion per year in hospital costs alone in the United States.

What are birth defects?

Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. They change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body and can affect any part of the body (such as the heart, brain, foot, etc). They may affect how the body looks, works, or both.

There are thousands of different birth defects and they can be very mild or very severe. Some do not require any treatment, while others may require surgery or lifelong medical interventions.

What causes birth defects?

We know what causes certain birth defects. For instance, drinking alcohol while you are pregnant can cause your baby to be born with  physical birth defects and mental impairment. And genetic conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease, are the result of inheriting a mutation (change) in a single gene. However, we do not know what causes the majority of birth defects. In most cases, it is a number of complex factors. The interaction of multiple genes, personal behaviors, and our environment all may all play a role.

Can we prevent birth defects?

Most birth defects cannot be prevented. But there are some things that a woman can do before and during pregnancy to increase her chance of having a healthy baby:

  • See your healthcare provider before pregnancy and start prenatal care as soon as you think you’re pregnant.
  • Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid reduces the chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and “street” drugs.
  • Talk to your provider about any medications you are taking, including prescription and over-the-counter medications and any dietary or herbal supplements. Talk to your provider before you start or stop taking any type of medications.
  • Prevent infections during pregnancy. Wash your hands and make sure your vaccinations are up to date.
  • Make sure chronic medical conditions are under control, before pregnancy. Some conditions, like diabetes and obesity, may increase the risk for birth defects.
  • Learn about your family health history.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Folic acid fortification saves millions of dollars and reduces neural tube defects

Friday, January 15th, 2016

grainSince the U.S. started requiring that folic acid be added to certain foods (known as fortification), there has been a 28% reduction in cases of babies born with neural tube defects (NTDs). In addition, a recent study has found that fortification also saves hundreds of millions of dollars each year in medical and associated costs.

In 1998, to help women of child-bearing age get more folic acid, the US Food and Drug Administration mandated that grains, such as bread, pasta, and breakfast cereal be fortified with folic acid. Getting the right amount of folic acid before pregnancy helps to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, called neural tube defects (NTDs). Neural tube defects include anencephaly and spina bifida.

A study published this week, estimates how much money has been saved by fortifying grain products with folic acid. The study suggests that each year, folic acid fortification saves about $603 million dollars more than the cost of fortification. The estimated lifetime cost for medical care, special education, and caregiver time for a child born with spina bifida is approximately $791,900. Since fortification prevents about 767 cases of spina bifida each year, the annual cost savings are substantial. The authors of the study conclude that “Fortification with folic acid is effective in preventing NTDs and saves hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”

The March of Dimes supports fortifying corn masa flour with folic acid. By targeting food made with corn masa for folic acid fortification, it would be possible to lower the rate of NTDs among the Hispanic population as well.

Keep in mind that even if you eat a well-balanced diet that includes fortified foods, fruits and vegetables, it can still be hard to get enough folic acid. So make sure you take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.