Posts Tagged ‘birth defects’

Three quarters of a century young (yes – we’re 79 years old!)

Monday, December 19th, 2016

fdr-warm-springs-kidsIt’s that time of year, when magazines are full of stories and photos of the year in review, and people look back to take stock of their accomplishments. This post is taking it a step further…here is a celebration of our past 79 years!

Why the dimes? (we get this question a lot)

The March of Dimes was started in 1938 when Franklin Roosevelt’s personal struggle with polio led him to create the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. It was a time when polio was on the rise nationwide. The name for the fundraiser “March of Dimes” was coined by comedian and radio personality Eddie Cantor as a pun on a popular movie newsreel of the era, The March of Time. Cantor asked his radio audience to send dimes to the White House to help polio patients and support research. After billions of dimes were received, the organization became known as the March of Dimes. The end result of this effort was the development of the polio vaccines, which have almost completely rid the world of this disabling disease.

check in boxIt is very unusual for a nonprofit organization to fulfill its mission as completely as that of the March of Dimes. So, when the March of Dimes checked off the box on the successful development of the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines, we turned our focus to that of preventing birth defects and infant mortality. With thousands of birth defects on record, we’ve had our hands full.

Our work after polio

The March of Dimes has funded research looking for the underlying genetic causes of birth defects to help us better understand what can go wrong and hopefully how to prevent them. We’ve funded research into the development of surfactant therapy to treat breathing problems in premature infants, which has saved thousands of lives since 1990. We’ve successfully championed and promoted newborn screening so that more infants with devastating conditions are identified and treated in a timely manner; and we led the campaign to add folic acid to grain foods in the United States, thereby reducing serious birth defects of the brain and spine by 27%.

We began educating the public on how to have a healthy pregnancy by producing a robust website of articles, print materials, this blog, and using social media to help women understand what they can do to have a full-term, healthy baby. We began answering individual health questions from the public in 1996 and still continue to answer thousands of questions every year.

But we didn’t stop there.

Our work with babies, birth defects and infant mortality provided a natural transition into fighting premature birth, the number 1 cause of deathPassing the time while your baby is in the NICU among babies in the U.S. Nearly 1 in 10 babies is born prematurely. Despite the advances in neonatal medicine, many babies still die, and the ones who survive often face a lifetime of disability – from mild to severe. In short, it is simply something that we knew we needed to fight.

So, in 2003 we launched our Prematurity Campaign. And in 2011, we launched the first of five prematurity research centers, each one staffed by the best and brightest scientists, and each one focused on a different aspect of prematurity. The best part of this 5-pronged approach is that the researchers all talk to one another and collaborate, encouraging synergy. Our goal is to be as successful with ending prematurity as we were with eliminating polio.

We also continued in the quest to allow folic acid to be added to corn masa flour in the U.S., and…drum roll please…we were successful this year! This is very important for the Hispanic community as corn masa flour is a staple for many Hispanic families. Fortifying corn masa flour products such as tortilla chips, tacos, and tamales, with folic acid will help prevent more devastating neural tube birth defects like Spina Bifida.

Wait…there’s more…

In the meantime, another related mission has surfaced – stopping the Zika virus. The devastating effects that Zika can have on a developing baby are well documented (microcephaly, congenital Zika syndrome, and developmental delays).

The March of Dimes led a coalition of almost 100 organizations to educate Congress about the dangers of Zika and was successful in the passage of federal funding to combat the virus. We continue to raise awareness with our #ZAPzika campaign to let women know how to protect themselves. By working with the CDC, we‘re educating the public about this virus so that pregnant women can protect themselves and their babies from Zika.

Yes. We’ve been very busy. The past 78 years have gone by quite fast.

Is there anything else in our future? Glad you asked!

A new March of Dimes President.

With the start of 2017, we will be under the leadership of President, Stacey D. Stewart, MBA, a woman of experience, intelligence, creativity and integrity. We’re so excited to welcome her.

The mission of the March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

We are confident that under the leadership of Ms. Stewart, we will once again check off the box on a mission accomplished.

 

 

Avoid mercury in skin care products

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

rubbing-nosesMost pregnant women know to avoid mercury from certain fish as it could harm a developing baby. But did you know that some skin care products contain mercury? Mercury may be found in skin creams, lotions and certain soaps. It is also found in some skin-lightening creams made outside of the U.S.

According to the FDA, “Some people – including pregnant women, nursing babies and young children – are especially vulnerable to mercury toxicity…Babies may be particularly sensitive to the harm mercury can cause to their developing brains and nervous systems. Newborns who nurse are vulnerable because mercury is passed into breast milk.”

FDA senior medical advisor Arthur Simone, M.D. says “Your family might breathe mercury vapors released from these products. Your children might touch washcloths or towels that are contaminated with mercury. It could be as simple as touching someone’s cheek or face.”

How do you know if your product contains mercury?

Check the list of ingredients, and do not use the product if any of these words are listed: “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury.”

The FDA further warns that if there is no product label or list of ingredients, do not use it. They say “Federal law requires that ingredients be listed on the label of any cosmetic or nonprescription drug, so do not use a product that doesn’t have a label.”

Why is mercury dangerous?

Mercury is a metal which can damage many parts of your body, including your lungs, kidneys and nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves). It also can cause hearing and vision problems. How serious the damage is depends on how much mercury you’re exposed to. Babies exposed to mercury in the womb can have brain damage and hearing and vision problems.

Where else is mercury found?

You can be exposed to mercury through your skin (lotions or creams), the air (by breathing it) and eating or drinking food or water that contains mercury. See our article for more details about where mercury may be found and ways to stay safe.

Have questions? Text or email our health education specialists at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

CDC says: First female-to-male sexual transmission of Zika virus infection reported in NYC

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Important news from the CDC today:  “The New York City report of female-to-male sexual transmission of Zika virus infection is the first documented case of sexual transmission of Zika from a woman to her sex partner and adds to the growing body of knowledge about the sexual transmission of Zika. All previously reported cases of sexually transmitted Zika virus infection have been spread from men to their sex partners.

CDC recommends that all pregnant women who have a sex partner who has traveled to or resides in an area with Zika use barrier methods every time they have sex or they should not have sex during the pregnancy. Although no cases of woman-to-woman Zika transmission have been reported, these recommendations now also apply to female sex partners of pregnant women.

CDC is currently updating recommendations for sexually active people in which the couple is not pregnant or concerned about pregnancy and for people who want to reduce personal risk of Zika infection through sex.”

You can see the CDC’s announcement here.

In our article, you can learn how to protect yourself from the Zika virus.

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

 

The lowdown on insect repellants

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

Zika - bug sprayProtecting yourself from mosquito bites is key in avoiding exposure to the Zika virus. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Use an insect repellant (bug spray or lotion) that is EPA registered.
  • Products containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol and IR3535, are safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • If you use a product containing DEET, make sure it has at least 20% DEET, and always follow the instructions on the product label.
  • Most bug sprays and lotions are safe to use on babies 2 months and older. However, DO NOT USE PRODUCTS THAT CONTAIN OIL OF LEMON EUCALPTUS OR PARA-MENTHANE-DIOL ON CHILDREN YOUNGER THAN 3 YEARS OF AGE.
  • Do not put bug spray or lotion on under clothing.
  • If you are using sunscreen, too, put it on first, before you use bug spray or lotion.

If you have recently traveled to a Zika-affected area, use bug spray or lotion for 3 weeks after you get back. This way, if you are bitten by a mosquito, it will not become infected with the Zika virus and spread it to other people.

Learn ways to #ZAPzika in our article: how to stay safe, how it can affect a baby during pregnancy, and what to do if you think you may have been exposed.

Have questions?  Send them to our health education specialists at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

Speak up — Tell Congress no vacation until they pass Zika funding!

Monday, July 11th, 2016

CongressToday, we welcome guest blogger Cynthia Pellegrini, Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Government Affairs at the March of Dimes. She has worked in Congress and advocacy organizations for 23 years.

 

I’ve been working in and with the U.S. Congress for over 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.

Everyone in Congress recognizes the threat posed by the Zika virus. No one wants to see babies born with microcephaly – cases of small, underdeveloped heads and brains – or other birth defects. There is broad consensus that Zika is a real issue and must be addressed head-on.

And yet, Congress has managed to entangled itself in partisan politics so thoroughly that they are about to leave until after Labor Day without doing anything at all on Zika virus.

Back in February, the President sent a request to Congress for emergency funding to combat Zika. It’s not unusual for emergency funding to be requested when a major issue comes up unexpectedly in the middle of a fiscal year. Emergency funding is needed because all the other government funds are already allocated to other purposes, and there’s limited flexibility to move those funds around.

But this time, Congress reacted slowly. Over six weeks passed without any activity at all. Even once Congress did start to work on Zika virus, movement was slow and difficult. The House and Senate passed very different versions of a Zika package, and then had to spend weeks working out the differences. Memorial Day came and went, and the July Fourth.

Now there are only 4 days remaining before the scheduled Congressional recess and the political conventions. And there’s no sign of any break in the stalemate.

Please sign this petition and tell Congress that there’s nothing more important than the health of pregnant women and babies.

No pregnant women should have to worry every day that a single mosquito bite may change her child’s life forever. Congress shouldn’t leave for the summer until they have done their sworn duty to protect the American people. It’s wrong, it shouldn’t be tolerated and we need everyone – including you and all your friends! — to join together to tell them so.

Can a mosquito cause birth defects? Listen to this interview on Zika virus and pregnancy

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Get the latest update on the Zika virus – what it is, how it spreads, signs and symptoms, how it can affect a pregnancy, and what you can do to stay safe.

March of Dimes Senior Vice President & Chief Medical Officer, Edward R.B. McCabe MD PhD, was interviewed by The Coffee Klatch on Blog Talk Radio. Listen to the entire interview to get answers to your Zika questions.

You can text or email your questions to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.
 

 

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.

Smoking during pregnancy can affect your baby’s DNA

Friday, April 1st, 2016

pregnant woman in greenYou already know that smoking during pregnancy is bad for you and your baby. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and can cause serious health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, gum disease and eye diseases that can lead to blindness.

A new study published yesterday in the American Journal of Human Genetics suggests that smoking during pregnancy causes chemical changes in a baby’s DNA. These differences are similar to changes found in the DNA of adult smokers.

The study analyzed the umbilical cord blood of over 6,000 newborns. The researchers found that when women smoked every day during pregnancy, their baby’s DNA was chemically different in over 6,000 places when compared with the DNA of babies whose mothers did not smoke. Some of the places where the DNA was chemically different could be linked to specific genes that play a role in cleft lip and palate, asthma, and some adult smoking-related cancers, such as lung cancer.  This new study is important because it adds to our understanding of how smoking during pregnancy affects fetal DNA and it suggests that these DNA changes may play a role in the development of certain birth defects or medical conditions.

It is well known that smoking during pregnancy has been linked to a number of pregnancy complications and medical problems for the baby. When you smoke during pregnancy, chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar pass through the placenta and umbilical cord into your baby’s bloodstream.

These chemicals are harmful. They can lessen the amount of oxygen that your baby gets. This can slow your baby’s growth before birth and can damage your baby’s heart, lungs and brain.

If you smoke during pregnancy, you’re more likely to have:

And your baby is more likely to:

If you smoke during pregnancy, quitting is the best thing you can do for you and your baby. The sooner you quit smoking during pregnancy, the healthier you and your baby can be. It’s best to quit smoking before getting pregnant. But quitting any time during pregnancy can have a positive effect on your baby’s life.

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

How to find a specialist for a birth defect or rare disease

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Contemplative woman with babyWe often receive inquiries from individuals asking for help finding information and resources for their child’s particular birth defect or medical condition. If a baby or child has a rare disease, the family may have an especially difficult time finding a specialist who is experienced with the disorder.

Here are some organizations that offer resources:

  • The Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center  – “GARD” provides links on how to find a disease specialist, a treatment center, a genetics clinic, researchers, and finally how to navigate the process of trying to get your child diagnosed.
  • The National Organization for Rare Disorders  – “NORD” maintains a database of diseases and provides detailed disease explanations and support group resources to patients and families.
  • Disease Infosearch (part of Genetic Alliance) – They provide disease information as well as support group resources.
  • The NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program – This is an invitation-only program for patients whose conditions “have eluded medical diagnoses.”

With any condition, finding the appropriate health care provider may make all the difference in the world. We suggest that families speak with their child’s health care provider and specialist so that together, they can establish the best course of treatment for their child.

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.