July is cleft and craniofacial awareness and prevention month. Craniofacial abnormalities are defects of the head (cranio) and face (facial) that are present when a baby is born. Cleft lip and/or cleft palate are a couple of the most common abnormalities.
Craniofacial abnormalities can range from mild to severe. These defects can present a variety of problems including eating and speech difficulties, ear infections and misaligned teeth, physical learning, developmental, or social challenges, or a mix of these issues. However, there are steps you can take to help prevent cleft and craniofacial defects before your baby is born.
What increases the risk of having a baby with craniofacial abnormalities?
We’re not sure what causes these defects. Some possible causes are:
• Changes in your baby’s genes. Genes are part of your baby’s cells that store instructions for the way the body grows and works. They provide the basic plan for how your baby develops. Genes are passed from parents to children.
• Diabetes. Women who have diabetes before they get pregnant have a higher risk of having a baby with a cleft or craniofacial birth defect.
• Maternal thyroid disease. Women who have maternal thyroid disease or are treated for the disease while they are pregnant have been shown to have a higher risk of having a baby with an abnormality.
• Not getting enough folic acid before pregnancy. Folic acid is a vitamin that can help protect your baby from birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects. It also may reduce the risk of oral clefts by about 25 percent.
• Taking certain medicines, like anti-seizure medicine, during pregnancy.
• Smoking during pregnancy.
• Drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
• Having certain infections during pregnancy.
How can you prevent cleft and craniofacial defects?
There are steps you can take to decrease the chance of having a baby with cleft and craniofacial defects.
• Before pregnancy, get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup to help make sure you are healthy before you get pregnant.
• Take a multivitamin that contains folic acid. Take one with 400 micrograms of folic acid before pregnancy, but increase to one with 600 micrograms of folic acid during pregnancy. Your provider may want you to take more – be sure to discuss this with him.
• Talk to your provider to make sure any medicine you take is safe during pregnancy. Your provider may want to switch you to a different medicine that is safer during pregnancy.
• Don’t smoke.
• Don’t drink alcohol.
• Get early and regular prenatal care.