Each year in the United States, about 1 in 33 babies is born with a birth defect. 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 “Best for You, Best for Baby.” We know that not all birth defects can be prevented. But we also know about things that can help you increase the chances of having a healthy, full-term pregnancy and a healthy baby. What’s best for you is also best for your baby.
Here are five things you can do before and during pregnancy that are good for your own health and that can help you have a healthy baby:
- Take a vitamin supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid Taking folic acid before and in the first few weeks of pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (also called NTDs).
- Get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy to help make sure you’re healthy when you get pregnant. At your checkup, talk to your health care provider about any medicine you take. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, supplements and herbal products.
- Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Ask your provider about vaccinations you need before pregnancy, including the flu shot and the pertussis (whooping cough) booster. Vaccinations can help protect you from certain infections that can harm you and your baby during pregnancy.
- Get to a healthy weight before you get pregnant. Not being at a healthy weight can affect pregnancy and your fertility (your ability to get pregnant). Being overweight or obese during pregnancy can cause problems for you and your baby. Talk to your provider about the right weight for you.
- Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful drugs, like opioids, during pregnancy. If you need help to quit, talk to your provider. Or contact:
- gov (800) QUIT-NOW or (800-784-8669)
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, (800) 622-2255
- Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator, (800) 662-4357
To learn more about how to have a healthy pregnancy and baby, visit marchofdimes.org.