January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

We know that not all birth defects can be prevented. But we do  know there are 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!

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.

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:

  1. Take a vitamin supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps your cells grow. 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). These are serious birth defects that happened very early during pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant.
  2. Get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before you get pregnant. In addition to helping improve your chances of getting pregnant, being healthy before pregnancy can help prevent complications when you do 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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). Getting to a healthy weight may help you avoid some complications like gestational diabetes or having a c-section. It may also help lower the risk of certain birth defects, like NTDs. Talk to your provider about the right weight for you.
  5. Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful drugs, like opioids, during pregnancy.
    • Smoking substances such as tobacco or marijuana during pregnancy can cause dangerous chemicals to damage the placenta and reach the baby’s bloodstream.
    • No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy, and its use can cause major birth defects.
    • Opioid use in pregnancy can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and premature birth in babies.
  6. If you need help to quit, talk to your provider. Or contact:
  7. -Smokefree.gov at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669.
  8. -Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator, 1-800-662-4357

To learn more about how to have a healthy pregnancy and baby, visit marchofdimes.org.