Archive for the ‘Pregnancy’ Category

March 3rd is the first ever World Birth Defects Day

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

WBDD_LogoFamilies frequently write to the March of Dimes and share a story about their child’s struggle with a birth defect. Often, they ask what else they can do to help raise awareness. Well, here is a great way to get involved.

Help us mark the first World Birth Defects Day by participating in social media activities and sharing a story about the impact of birth defects on you and your family.

The March of Dimes and 11 other international organizations, including the CDC and the WHO, have created the first-ever World Birth Defects Day on March 3rd. We hope to raise awareness of this serious global problem and advocate for more prevention, care and research to help babies and children.

Birth defects affect 1 in 33 infants worldwide. Half of these birth defects will be detected soon after birth; the other half will be diagnosed during the first year of life. Birth defects are a major cause of death in infants and young children. Babies who survive are at an increased risk for life-long disabilities.

We need you.

On March 3rd, share your story about the impact of birth defects on you, your child or someone you know. With our partners, we’ll be urging governments, non-governmental organizations, policymakers, researchers, and health care providers around the world to help us work together toward a healthier future for children.

What can you do?

1.  Post an announcement on your blog, Facebook, Twitter or other social media platform.

2.  Register to be a part of the World Birth Defects Day Thunderclap. A message will be sent out at 9:00 a.m. EST on March 3 to help raise awareness.

3.  Join the Buzzday on Twitter on March 3rd. Plan to send one or more messages using the #WorldBDDay tag at some point during the day. Retweet both promotional and day-of messages to build our buzz for the day.

We look forward to having you join the conversation. Together, we can make strides to improve knowledge and raise awareness.

For more information, email AskUs@marchofdimes.org. See other topics in the series on Delays and Disabilities- How to get help for your child, here.

Pregnant? Stay centered.

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

third trimesterHave you felt off balance lately? Are your legs wobbly under your growing belly? You’re not alone. If you are in your third trimester of pregnancy, your center of gravity may be off balance, which could make you more prone to slips and falls. And your unsteady legs may be due to factors other than your growing belly.

Your center of gravity refers to the place in your body that helps anchor you to the earth, so that you don’t tip over. A natural point of balance is below the navel and halfway between the abdomen and lower back. Having a strong center of gravity helps you have good balance. During pregnancy, as your baby grows, your center of gravity moves forward and upward. Therefore, feeling off-balance is likely to worsen later on in your pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. Slipping and falling is much easier when your center of gravity has shifted.

But it’s not just your growing belly making you feel off kilter. During pregnancy, your body releases a hormone called relaxin. Toward the end of your pregnancy, this hormone helps to soften the cervix and loosen the pelvic joints so they are more flexible for labor and delivery. This softening can affect the hips, knees and ankles, which is what makes your legs feel shaky or wobbly.

Be extra careful when walking or going up/down stairs. Hold a handrail whenever one is available.  Winter is here, and there is a lot of snow and ice on the sidewalks and streets in many parts of the country. When you’re walking outside, take extra caution. Walk slowly. Be aware of your center of gravity and be sure to wear appropriate shoes or snow boots.

The good news is that soon after the birth of your baby, your center of gravity will shift again, and return to normal.

Concerns surrounding “keepsake” ultrasounds

Friday, February 20th, 2015

pr_mr_lg_ultrasound1The first ultrasound is one of the most exciting times in pregnancy. Most parents can’t wait for the opportunity to share their baby’s first pictures with family and friends. However, it is important to remember that an ultrasound is a medical imaging technique and should only be done under the supervision of medical professionals, such as your doctor and/or a trained ultrasound technician. “Keepsake” ultrasounds offered by commercial businesses are not recommended.

Ultrasound is the most commonly used tool for viewing a developing baby. Sound waves bounce off curves and shapes within your body and these patterns are then translated into images. Standard ultrasound creates a 2-D image of a developing baby. Some women have an ultrasound during the first trimester to confirm and date the pregnancy—this is called an early ultrasound.  But not all providers offer this. Most doctors perform an ultrasound between 18 and 20 weeks. At this time your provider will check your baby’s heartbeat, muscle tone, movement and overall development.

Although it is always fun and exciting to see your unborn baby on the ultrasound monitor, it is very important to remember that this is a medical procedure. You may have seen places in a mall that offer “keepsake” 3-D or 4-D ultrasound pictures or videos for parents. While ultrasounds have been used for over 30 years and are considered safe for you and your baby, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine do not recommend these non-medical ultrasounds. The people doing them may not have medical training and may give you wrong or even harmful information.

In a recent consumer update regarding fetal keepsake images, the FDA warns that “In creating fetal keepsake videos, there is no control on how long a single imaging session will last, how many sessions will take place, or whether the ultrasound systems will be operated properly.” And although there is no evidence that ultrasound may cause harm to an unborn baby, there is also no medical benefit to exposing the baby to unnecessary ultrasound waves only for the purposes of keepsake images.

If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about when to schedule your ultrasound. He or she will be more than happy to give you pictures to take home with you. You can read more about the different types of ultrasound that your provider may recommend, when they are offered, and what information they may be able to provide here.

Pregnancy in women with congenital heart disease

Monday, February 9th, 2015

heart and stethoscopeMost women who have congenital heart disease and decide to get pregnant will have a safe pregnancy with minimal risks. However, there are many factors that may need to be considered. During pregnancy, your heart has much more work to do. It has to beat faster and pump more blood to both the mother and the baby. If you are a woman who has congenital heart disease, then this extra stress on your heart may be a concern. Considering these issues before pregnancy and being prepared for potential complications can help you feel more confident and more in control throughout your pregnancy.

Preconception planning
The most important thing you can do if you are a woman with congenital heart disease is to talk to both your cardiologist and obstetrician before you get pregnant. This will allow you to understand what risks (if any) are involved for your pregnancy. You can also determine if there are any concerns with your heart that need to be fixed prior to pregnancy—for instance, do you need to alter any medications or have any surgical repairs? Doing all of this before pregnancy will allow you to make sure your heart and your overall health is ready for pregnancy.

Some medications carry a risk for birth defects. These include ACE inhibitors and blood thinners. Therefore, if you are taking these medications and want to have a baby, it is important to talk to your doctor about their safety and potential alternatives that may work for you. However, you should never stop taking any medications without your doctor’s approval.

You may also want to meet with a genetic counselor to review the risks of passing congenital heart disease on to your baby. This risk will vary depending on the cause of the heart disease.

Pregnancy
During pregnancy you and your doctors will want to minimize any risks for both you and your baby. You will need to have regular follow-ups with both your obstetrician and cardiologist. It is important that your doctors work together and coordinate your care. Some women will need to be followed by a maternal-fetal medicine specialist (an obstetrician who manages high-risk pregnancies).

Although most women with congenital heart disease have safe pregnancies, symptoms of heart disease can increase, especially during the second and third trimesters when the heart is working much harder. This may mean additional visits to both your cardiologist and obstetrician.

Typically if you have a personal or a family history of congenital heart disease, your obstetrician will offer you a fetal echocardiogram at around 18-20 weeks of pregnancy. This is a specialized ultrasound that allows your doctor to check out the anatomy of your baby’s heart and look for major structural changes. Not all heart defects can be identified through fetal echo though.

Delivery
It may surprise you to learn that most women with congenital heart disease can have a normal vaginal delivery. You and your doctor will want to discuss pain management options and have a plan in place. You may need additional monitoring both during and after delivery. This can include oxygen monitoring as well as EKGs (electrocardiogram—a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart).

If you have congenital heart disease work with both your obstetrician and cardiologist so that you can have the best outcome possible. As with most chronic medical conditions, planning for your pregnancy will allow you to make informed decisions about what is best for you and your baby.

 

Thinking of getting pregnant? Get your blood pressure checked.

Friday, February 6th, 2015

blood pressureWhen was the last time you had your blood pressure checked? Nearly one in three adults has high blood pressure or hypertension. And yet, many of us do not even know that we have it. High blood pressure can be especially dangerous for both mom and baby during pregnancy. If you have high blood pressure and are thinking about getting pregnant, it is very important that you talk to your health care provider and get it under control as soon as possible.

Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries (blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body). When the pressure in the arteries becomes too high, it is called high blood pressure or hypertension.

If you are 20 pounds or more overweight or if you have a family history of hypertension, you are at an increased risk to have high blood pressure yourself.

If you do have high blood pressure, there are a few lifestyle changes that you can make to get it under control, and to help prepare your body for pregnancy:
• Eat healthy foods and reduce your intake of salt, cholesterol, and saturated fats
• Exercise regularly
• Get to a healthy weight
• Don’t smoke or drink alcohol.

Not all medications for high blood pressure are safe to continue during pregnancy. If you are taking any prescriptions to manage your hypertension, make sure you discuss them with your doctor. You should never stop taking any medications without talking to your provider first.

About 8 percent of women have problems with high blood pressure during pregnancy. Although most health problems can be managed with regular prenatal care, pregnant women with high blood pressure are more likely than women without high blood pressure to have these complications:
• Low birthweight: when a baby weighs less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. High blood pressure can narrow blood vessels in the uterus and your baby may not get enough oxygen and nutrients, causing him to grow slowly.
• Premature birth: birth that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. A pregnant woman with severe high blood pressure or preeclampsia may need to give birth early to avoid serious health problems for her and her baby.
• Placental abruption: the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth. It can separate partially or completely. If this happens, your baby may not get enough oxygen and nutrients.

Work with your provider before and during your pregnancy to control your blood pressure. Making a few changes now can help you to have a safer, healthier pregnancy.

How can we prevent birth defects?

Friday, January 30th, 2015

speak to your health care providerBirth defects are common, costly, and critical.
Common: Every 4 ½ minutes in the United States, a baby is born with a birth defect.
Costly: Hospital costs for children and adults with birth defects exceeds $2.6 billion. That does not include outpatient expenses.
Critical: Birth defects cause 1 in every 5 deaths during the first year of life. They can result in lifelong challenges and disabilities.

As Birth Defects Prevention Month draws to a close, let’s recap what we know and look at steps that can be taken to prevent them.

Preconception and pregnancy planning
We know that it essential for a woman to take an active role in planning her pregnancy.  If you are thinking of having a baby or if you may want to have children sometime in the future, it is important to make a PACT: plan ahead, avoid harmful substances, choose a healthy lifestyle, and talk to your doctor. You can read more here.

Changing a few behaviors now can make a big difference when you are ready to have a baby. It is best to get any preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, under control before pregnancy. Some medications, such as opioid-based prescription pain medications, are not safe to use when you are pregnant. All of these concerns can be discussed with your doctor during a preconception checkup.

Folic acid fortification
It is well known that taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day can help to reduce the risk of neural tube defects or NTDs (disorders of the brain and spine). Since the US mandated folic acid fortification of enriched cereal grain products in 1998, the rates of NTDs have decreased by 35%.  That means that there are 1,300 fewer NTDs each year as a result of fortification. And that translates into an annual cost savings of approximately $508 million.

Surveillance
State surveillance systems record the number of babies born with a birth defect each year. The information gained from these surveillance systems furthers research on the causes of birth defects. The data also helps researchers to better understand which populations are at highest risk for specific birth defects. This information can then be used by public health professionals, policymakers, and health care providers to implement prevention strategies.

Research
The March of Dimes is funding research to understand the causes of birth defects and to develop new ways to prevent and treat them. Some March of Dimes grantees are studying basic biological processes of development. A more advanced look at the process of development will help reveal what can go wrong along the way. Others researchers are conducting clinical studies aimed at finding ways to prevent or treat specific birth defects.

Birth Defects Prevention Month may be coming to an end, but there is still a lot of work to do. Go to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network to learn more.

Painkillers and pregnancy don’t mix

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

pregnant2Did you know that a significant number of women of childbearing age fill prescriptions for narcotic painkillers each year? If a woman becomes pregnant while taking these medications, she is at an increased risk of having a baby with birth defects.

Opioid-based (narcotic) pain medications, such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine, are used to treat moderate to severe pain. Many women are unaware that the use of these medications during pregnancy, even when used as directed, may increase their chance to have a baby with a serious birth defect of the brain, spine, or heart. They also have an increased risk of preterm birth.  Use of opioid-based painkillers during pregnancy can also cause babies to suffer withdrawal symptoms when they are born. This is a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS, and it is a growing problem in U.S. birthing hospitals.

A new report from the CDC found that on average, about 28% of privately insured and 39% of Medicaid-enrolled women of child-bearing age filled a prescription for an opioid between 2008-2012.

Since half of all pregnancies are unplanned, women may be prescribed opioid-based pain medications before they know they are pregnant.  “This highlights the importance of promoting safer alternative treatments, when available for women of reproductive age. We must do what we can to protect babies from exposure to opioids,” stated Coleen A. Boyle, PhD, MSHyg, Director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD).

“If you are using an opioid painkiller, you should also be practicing effective birth control, “ says José F. Cordero, MD, MPH, a pediatrician, birth defects expert formerly at CDC, and member of the March of Dimes Board of Trustees. “If you decide to get pregnant or do become pregnant, tell your health care provider about all the medications you are taking, right away. You may be able to switch to a safer alternative.”

The CDC’s Treating for Two: Safer Medication Use in Pregnancy initiative offers information to women and their healthcare providers about medication use during pregnancy. Go here to get more information.

Birth Defects: What have we learned?

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Birth defects prevention month CDC guest postSpecial thanks to Coleen Boyle, PhD, MSHyg, Director, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for today’s guest post.

Each January, in recognition of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, we at CDC strive to increase awareness about birth defects and reflect upon all that we have learned so far.  We know what causes some birth defects, such as Down syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. However, for many birth defects, the causes are unknown.

The good news is that, through research, we’ve learned a lot about what might increase or decrease the risk for birth defects. For example, we know that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Taking certain medications, having uncontrolled diabetes, and smoking cigarettes are all things that can increase the risk for birth defects. We also know that getting enough folic acid, a B vitamin, starting at least one month before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy lowers the risk of having a baby with a major birth defect of the brain or spine.

Each of these research findings represents a building block, a step toward healthy birth outcomes. Understanding the potential causes of birth defects can lead to recommendations and policies to help prevent them. A great example of this is the research on folic acid, which led to the recommendation that all women who can become pregnant should get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. This important research also contributed to the evidence needed to add folic acid to foods such as enriched breads, pastas, rice and cereals.

These building blocks start to form our foundation for understanding birth defects and help us identify what we still need to study in the future. While we have a learned a lot, much work remains. We at CDC continue to study the causes of birth defects, look for ways to prevent them, and work to improve the lives of people living with these conditions and their families.

To learn more about birth defects research, we invite you to join us at 1PM EST on January 20, 2015 for CDC’s live webcast titled “Understanding the Causes of Major Birth Defects: Steps to Prevention.” Experts in birth defects research will present an overview of current and historical efforts to understand the causes of major birth defects. They will also discuss the challenges in turning research findings into effective prevention. For more information on the upcoming session, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/cdcgrandrounds/.

This year, we encourage you to become an active participant in National Birth Defects Prevention Month.  Post facts about birth defects marked by the hashtag #1in33 on social media or share your story and how birth defects affect you and your family. Join us in a nationwide effort to raise awareness of birth defects, their causes and their impact.

 

 

Make a PACT to prevent birth defects

Friday, January 9th, 2015

MOD woman eatingEach year in the United States, about 120,000 babies (1 in 33) are affected by 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. Birth defects can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops or how the body works. Not all birth defects can be prevented, but there are things that a woman can do before and during pregnancy to increase her chances of having a healthy baby.

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month and this year’s theme is “Making Healthy Choices to Prevent Birth Defects—Make a PACT for Prevention.” If you are thinking of having a baby, follow this PACT:

Plan ahead:
• Get as healthy as you can before becoming pregnant.
• Make sure you are taking 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Studies show that if all women in the United States took the recommended amount of folic acid before and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects (NTDs) could be prevented. Folic acid also may help prevent other birth defects, including cleft lip/palate and some heart defects.

Avoid harmful substances:
• Do not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or use street drugs.
• Make sure you are aware of any harmful exposures at work or home and do your best to avoid them.

Choose a healthy lifestyle:
• Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, and lean proteins.
• Exercise and stay physically active.
• Make sure you work with your health care provider to get any pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, under control and managed.

Talk to your doctor:
• Get a preconception checkup before pregnancy and make sure you go to all of your prenatal visits during pregnancy.
• Discuss all medications you are taking with your doctor. This includes both prescription meds and over-the counter medicines.
• Review your family health history.

So this year, make a PACT to prevent birth defects by following these healthy guidelines. The National Birth Defects Prevention Network’s website has more information.

How to combat holiday fatigue

Friday, December 26th, 2014

tired santaHoliday season is in full swing—we just have to make it to New Year’s Eve. I am exhausted. Traveling, family, kids, parties—it all adds up to a lot of late nights and early mornings. And if you are pregnant, you may be more tired than usual. This is especially true during the first and third trimesters, when your body is producing new hormones and getting ready for the many changes that will be coming soon.

 

So what can you do to try to relieve your holiday fatigue? Here are some tips:

• Rest when you can during the day and try to take a few breaks to renew your energy.

• Lots of family activities may leave you feeling drained at the end of the day. Go to bed early, if you can.

• Don’t drink lots of fluids too close to bedtime. Hopefully then, you will not have to get up to go to the bathroom.

• If you often have heartburn, make sure you do not lie down right after you eat. Try to eat your last meal a few hours before you go to bed.

• To avoid leg cramps, gently stretch your leg muscles before bedtime.

• A nice 30 minute walk can refresh and invigorate you (make sure your doctor has said exercise is OK). But do not get too much exercise right before bed.

• Be sure to drink enough fluids—water is usually best.

• Deep breathing and meditation can help you find a moment of peace when you are feeling overwhelmed.

• Try to limit unhealthy snacks. These can drain your energy. Fruits, vegetables, and foods high in iron and protein are good choices.

• During this busy season, do not forget to take your prenatal vitamin. If you are anemic, ask your provider about an iron supplement.

You can read more about fatigue during pregnancy on our website. And if you have any questions, email us at askus@marchofdimes.org.