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, 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.