January is Birth Defects Prevention month. In the United States, a baby is born with a birth defect every 4 ½ minutes. Some infections before and during pregnancy can have serious consequences, including causing certain birth defects. Talking to your health care provider is an important way that you can help prevent infections and protect you and your baby.
During your preconception checkup or your first prenatal visit, talk to your health care provider about:
How to prevent infections
- Maintain good hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially when preparing food or caring for young children.
- Take precautions to protect yourself from animals known to carry diseases and insects that may carry infections, such as Zika.
- Stay away from wild or pet rodents, live poultry, lizards, and turtles.
- Do not clean a cat litter box during pregnancy.
- Avoid travel to Zika-affected areas. Be sure to discuss any travel plans with your provider.
- When mosquitoes are active, prevent mosquito bites using an EPA-registered bug spray containing one of these ingredients: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or IR3535. Wear appropriate clothing (hat, long-sleeved shirt, pants, shoes, & socks).
- Don’t have sex with a male or female partner who may be infected with Zika virus or who has recently travelled to a Zika-affected area.
Vaccinations before pregnancy
It’s best to be up to date on all your routine adult vaccinations before you get pregnant. These vaccinations are recommended before pregnancy:
- Flu. Get the flu vaccine once a year before flu season (October through May). There are many different flu viruses, and they’re always changing. Each year a new flu vaccine is made to protect against three or four flu viruses that are likely to make people sick during the upcoming flu season.
- HPV (human papillomavirus). This vaccine protects against the infection that causes genital warts. The infection also may lead to cervical cancer. The CDC recommends that women up to age 26 get the HPV vaccine.
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella). This vaccine protects you against measles, mumps and rubella (also called German measles). Measles during pregnancy can cause miscarriage. Rubella can cause serious problems during pregnancy, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects.
- Varicella. This vaccine protects you from chickenpox, an infection that spreads easily and causes itchy skin, rash and fever. During pregnancy, it can be dangerous for a baby and cause birth defects. If you’re thinking about getting pregnant and haven’t had chickenpox or been vaccinated for it, tell your provider.
Vaccinations during pregnancy
The CDC recommends two vaccinations during pregnancy:
- Flu shot if you weren’t vaccinated before pregnancy. You can get a flu shot at any time during pregnancy.
- Pertussis vaccine (Tdap) at 27 to 36 weeks of pregnancy. Pertussis (also called whooping cough) is an extremely contagious disease that causes violent coughing and is dangerous for a baby. Pregnant women should get a dose of Tdap during every pregnancy, to protect their baby.
Remember, preventing infections before and during pregnancy can help to keep you and your baby safe. Speaking with your healthcare provider can help you become as healthy as possible before and during pregnancy.