Each 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:
• 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.
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.