CHDs and our babies

08
Feb
Posted by Lauren

BabyOnChest-When the month of February arrives, many people think of Valentine’s Day hearts and red flowers. February is also a time to raise awareness about another heart topic – congenital heart defects (CHDs).

Heart defects develop in the early weeks of pregnancy when the heart is forming, often before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Congenital heart defects are heart conditions that are present at birth. We’re not sure what causes most CHDs, but these defects can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and the way it works.

CHDs are the most common types of birth defects. Nearly 1 in 100 babies (about 1 percent or 40,000 babies) is born with a heart defect in the United States each year. They may be diagnosed before your baby is born, or soon after birth. Some CHDs are diagnosed much later in life.

There are different kinds of CHDs and their symptoms can be mild to severe. Treatment for each type of CHD depends on the heart defect. The seven most severe forms of CHD are called Critical Congenital Heart Disease (CCHD). Babies with CCHD need treatment within the first few hours, days or months of life.

Although the causes of most CHDs are not yet fully understood, certain medical conditions may play a role, such as diabetes, lupus, rubella, phenyletonuria (PKU) if not following the special diet, and being very overweight during pregnancy.

To become familiar with the different kinds of CHDs, possible causes, screenings and treatments, see our article.

As you send out a Valentine card or share in the spirit of love this week, consider learning and raising awareness about congenital heart defects. This condition affects the hearts of our smallest Valentines.

For information on where to find support and resources for your baby, please email or text us at AskUs@Marchofdimes.org

 

Understanding lead exposure

05
Feb
Posted by Sara

water faucetYou have probably heard reports about lead being found in drinking water over the past few weeks. Lead is a metal. You can’t see, smell or taste lead, but it can be harmful to everyone, especially pregnant women and young children. You and your child can come in contact with lead by breathing it in from dust in the air, swallowing it in dust or dirt, or drinking it in water from pipes that are made of lead.

Here is some important information about lead:

High lead levels in the blood of pregnant women is associated with increased rates of preterm birth and other problems in their babies. Exposure to lead is more dangerous to children than to adults. About half a million to 1 million children in the United States have high levels of lead in their blood.

If you think your child has been exposed to lead from the water at home, tell your child’s health care provider. She can check your child’s blood for lead.

If you’re renting a home and are concerned about lead, talk to your landlord. He’s responsible for making repairs safely. If you need help talking to your landlord about lead, contact your local health department.

If you have lead pipes in your house or if you have well water, lead may get into your drinking water. Boiling water does not get rid of lead. If you think you have lead in your water:

  • Use bottled or filtered water for cooking, drinking and mixing baby formula.
  • If you’re using tap water, use cold water from your faucet for drinking and cooking. Water from the cold-water pipe has less lead and other harmful substances than water from the hot-water pipes.
  • Run water from each tap before drinking it or using it for cooking, especially if you haven’t run the water for a few hours. If the faucet hasn’t been used for 6 hours, run the water until you feel its temperature change.
  • Contact your local health department or water department to find out how to get pipes tested for lead. If you use well water, contact the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 for information on testing your well water and household for lead and other substances that can harm your health.

Our website has a lot more information about possible sources of lead and how you can minimize contact. If you have any concerns about lead exposure to lead, make sure you talk to your health care provider.

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

An update on the Zika virus – how to protect yourself

03
Feb
Posted by Barbara

pregnant womanIt’s all over the news. The possible link between the Zika virus and birth defects is being investigated. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself and your family.

Understand Zika

If you become infected with Zika during pregnancy, it may cause serious problems for your baby.

  • You can catch the Zika virus by being bitten by an infected Aedes mosquito. Mosquitos carrying the Zika virus are found in tropical areas, such as the Americas, Southern Asia, Africa and Western pacific. See this map for an up-to-date view of Zika affected areas.
  • You may also get the Zika virus through sexual contact with someone who has the virus, or through a blood transfusion.

According to the CDC:

  • A mother already infected with Zika virus near the time of delivery can pass on the virus to her newborn around the time of birth, but this is rare.
  • It is possible that Zika virus could be passed from mother to fetus during pregnancy. This mode of transmission is being investigated.
  • To date, there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding. Because of the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where Zika virus is found.

Symptoms

Most people who have the Zika virus may not have any signs or symptoms. Others may have many symptoms including headache, fever, joint or muscle pain, pink eye, pain behind the eyes, rash and vomiting. If you have traveled to a Zika-affected area and have signs and symptoms, contact your health care provider.

What can you do?

Protect yourself.

  • If you are pregnant, think about postponing travel to Zika-affected areas.
  • If you are trying to become pregnant, talk to your health care provider before traveling to an affected area, and be sure to take steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
  • If you have plans to travel to an affected area, be sure to check the CDC’s website for advisories or contact the country’s local travel authorities.

Take steps to avoid mosquito bites. Use an insect repellent (bug spray) that contains DEET. Here’s how to stay safe when you use bug spray:

  • Choose one that’s registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (also called EPA). All EPA-registered insect repellents are checked to make sure they’re safe and work well.
  • Follow the instructions on the product label.
  • If you use sunscreen, put sunscreen on first and then the bug spray.
  • Don’t put insect repellent on your skin under clothes.

If you have been exposed to Zika

Contact your health care provider if you have been exposed to Zika. He may test your blood for signs of the virus.

If you have lived in or traveled to a Zika-affected area and have given birth, or if your baby has symptoms of the Zika virus, seek medical attention. Your baby’s provider will follow guidelines for testing and management.

Bottom line

Researchers are trying to understand exactly what is causing the increase in birth defects in Brazil. They are not sure if the Aedes mosquito and the Zika virus are to blame. They note that the rise in microcephaly is occurring at the same time as the increase in the Zika virus. This investigation will take some time before it is completed. In the meantime, taking precautions and following the guidelines as noted above are your safest bet.

Read our article about the Zika virus for more information. Pregnant? Trying to conceive? See the CDC’s Q/A page on Zika and pregnant women.

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

 

Antidepressant use and what it means for pregnant women

02
Feb
Posted by Lauren

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.

Wrapping up birth defects prevention month

27
Jan
Posted by Barbara

Baby girl smilingWe’ve had a busy month spreading the word about birth defects. If you’ve missed some posts, here is a wrap up of messages. More posts will be coming each week, so stay tuned.

Birth defects are common.

  • 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 critical. They 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.
  • Birth defects are costly. The CDC says, each year, total hospital costs for U.S. children and adults with birth defects exceed $2.6 billion.
  • 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.

  • Women can take steps toward a healthy pregnancy. Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid during childbearing years can help to reduce the risk for birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (NTDs).
  • Pregnant or trying to conceive? Here are steps you can take to help prevent birth defects and have a healthy pregnancy.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and “street” drugs during pregnancy. Talk to your provider before you start or stop taking any type of medications.
  • Prevent infections during pregnancy – wash your hands often and well.
  • Make sure your vaccinations are up to to date.
  • Get chronic medical conditions under control before pregnancy. Diabetes and obesity may increase the risk for birth defects.
  • Collect your family health history and share it with your healthcare provider.

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.

 

Anencephaly: causes, risks & what you can do

25
Jan
Posted by Lauren

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.

 

Cases of gastroschisis continue to rise

22
Jan
Posted by Sara

research_birthdefectsresearch_rdax_50New research shows that the number of cases of gastroschisis, a birth defect of the abdominal wall, has more than doubled over the past 18 years.

Gastroschisis is a birth defect where the baby’s intestines, and sometimes other organs, are outside of the baby’s abdomen. After birth, surgery is required to place the baby’s organs back inside the abdomen. In 2013, a study showed that the number of cases of gastroschisis had nearly doubled between 1995-2005. The highest rates were observed in non-Hispanic white teen mothers. Women younger than age 20 were over seven times more likely to have a baby with gastroschisis compared with women aged 25-29.

Researchers from the CDC wanted to determine if the rate of gastroschisis continued to increase after 2005. Looking at data from 14 states between 2006-2012, they found that the number of babies born with gastroschisis has continued to increase. This growth was not limited to young mothers. There were more cases of gastroschisis across all categories of maternal age and race/ethnicity.

While the highest number of gastroschisis cases still occurs in young (<20 years old) non-Hispanic white mothers, the most recent data shows a significant increase among young black mothers as well.

These increases in gastroschisis are seen in the US and internationally. The underlying cause has not been determined. “When you see something rising as fast as this is in all population groups, and in all ages, it tells you something serious is going on. We need to try and figure out what it is so we can prevent the rise,” says Edward R.B. McCabe, MD, PhD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at the March of Dimes.

Most babies with gastroschisis recover and develop normally. But, some babies go on to have feeding problems in early childhood. Learn more about the different types of abdominal defects and surgeries here.

The March of Dimes continues to fund research to better understand how conditions such as gastroschisis develops and how we can prevent them.

Britax recalls 71,000 infant car seats

22
Jan
Posted by Barbara

Britax car seat recallBritax B-Safe 35 and B-Safe 35 Elite infant car seats and travel systems have been recalled due to the unexpected cracking and breaking of the car seat handle, which causes the car seat to fall. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, this recall involves car seats manufactured between October 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015.

To see if your baby’s car seat is one of the affected models, go to the Britax website and enter in the model number, located on the Date of Manufacture label, on the back of the seat.

You can also contact Britax at 800-683-2045 or Britax.Recall@britax.com.

How Life and Pregnancy Planning Can Effect Outcomes

21
Jan
Posted by Barbara

Show Your Love. Your Baby will thank you for it. www.cdc.gov/showyourlove

Special thanks to our guest blogger, Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH.

This January, it is a great time to celebrate babies and raise awareness of those affected by birth defects. #1in33 babies are born with a birth defect, and while not all birth defects are preventable, men and women can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by taking proper care of their health and their lifestyle before they become pregnant.

The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative, a public-private partnership of 70+ national organizations working to advance preconception health, is gearing up to launch Show Your Love. The March of Dimes is a partner in this consumer-focused preconception health campaign, which seeks to help young women and men understand the significance their choices and health have on their future families. This upcoming resource center and campaign is meant to spark action for consumers to “Show Your Love” – to yourself, your significant other, your family/future family – by taking care of yourself today.

Whether young adults are planning to become pregnant or not, there are critical steps that can be taken TODAY to improve their own overall health and wellness and increase the chance of a healthy baby. Some key areas to start incorporating into daily life to decrease risk of birth defects include:

• Planning pregnancies
• Eating healthy foods
• Staying active
• Taking a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid daily
• Protecting against sexually transmitted infections
• Protecting from other infections
• Avoiding harmful chemicals and toxins
• Updating vaccinations
• Managing and reducing stress and getting mentally healthy
• Learning about your family’s health history
• Getting regular health checkups
• Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake before trying to get pregnant.
• Stop drinking alcohol while trying to get pregnant and during pregnancy.
• Seeking support in abusive or violent situations
• Managing health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, overweight

You can find full health and wellness, life and/or reproductive planning checklists here. These checklists can support you with tips to get healthy before, during or after pregnancy.

From story sharing, social media and blog posts, and ongoing awareness initiatives, the support and engagement during National Birth Defects Prevention Month is inspiring. Let’s do our part to keep the momentum rolling year-round!

Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPHSarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH, is the Executive Director at UNC Center for Maternal & Infant Health, which provides direct clinical services to high risk mothers and infants, conducts health services research, coordinates statewide programs, and provides patient and health care professional education. She serves as the 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. She leads the five workgroups within the PCHHC: Consumer, Clinical, Policy & Finance, Surveillance and Research, and Public Health. Sarah is an associate professor at UNC School of Social Work.

January – a time to get your child’s records organized

20
Jan
Posted by Barbara

Binders of child's recordsIf you have a child with special needs, you will find that you collect enough reports, medical statements, doctor’s notes, school IEPs or 504s, and a host of other paperwork, to fill a room. Keeping it organized is very important as you learn to advocate for your child. Even if you are not a neat-nick or haven’t been organized up to this point, this is a great time to get started.

Commit to being organized from today onward (don’t think about the papers from yesterday yet). Get yourself a binder or a file cabinet and label it 2016. As you get each item, file it chronologically in your binder or file folder.

Once you have your method for collecting items from today and for the rest of the year, you can go back and organize your files since the birth of your child. See this post to learn what you should include in your binder, how long you should keep materials, and where to go to learn essential tips.

Some parents separate their files according to topics: medical reports, school, etc. I have always found it easiest to simply have a binder/folder and add items as I get them, separated by year. Either way, you can tag items as you get them, for quicker retrieval. For example, if your child had an evaluation for physical therapy, you can put the report in the binder/folder and put a “PT Eval 2016” tab on it.

You have enough to do just caring for your child. Keeping track of your child’s records should not be something that adds stress to your life. Check out these tips and see what works best for you. The goal is to be organized enough so that when you need an evaluation, report, or your child’s latest IEP, you can find it quickly.

Being organized will decrease your stress and anxiety – a great gift to give yourself.

Note:  The mini-series on Delays and Disabilities has lots of info to help you if you have a child with special needs. Please feel free to comment and make suggestions.