5 behaviors to help reduce the risk of birth defects
(Family Features) If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, now is a perfect time to make a plan. There are steps you can take to increase your chances of having a healthy, full-term pregnancy and baby – and part of that includes learning about birth defects. Understanding birth defects across the lifespan can help those affected have the information they need to seek proper care.
Each year, birth defects affect about 1 in 33 babies born in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Mainly developing in the first three months of pregnancy as a baby’s organs form, birth defects present as structural changes and can affect one or more parts of the body (heart, brain, foot, etc.). They can cause problems for a baby’s overall health, how the body develops and functions, and are a leading cause of infant death.
Common birth defects include congenital heart defects, cleft lip, cleft palate and spina bifida. An individual’s genetics, behaviors and social and environmental factors can impact one’s risk for birth defects. Even though all birth defects cannot be prevented, there are things you can do before and during pregnancy to increase your chance of having a healthy baby.
“It’s critical that women who are planning to conceive or are pregnant adopt healthy behaviors to reduce the chances of having a baby with birth defects, which are a leading cause of infant death,” said Dr. Zsakeba Henderson, March of Dimes senior vice president and interim chief medical and health officer. “We also encourage these women to get the COVID-19 vaccine since high fevers caused by an infection during the first trimester can increase the risk of birth defects.”
To help prepare for a healthy pregnancy and baby, consider these tips from the experts at March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit fighting for the health of all moms and babies, and the CDC:
1. Have a pre-pregnancy checkup. Before you become pregnant, visit your health care provider to talk about managing your health conditions and creating a treatment plan. Talk about all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements you’re currently taking. You should see your provider before each pregnancy.
2. Get vaccinated. Speak with your health care provider about any vaccinations you may need before each pregnancy, including the COVID-19 vaccine and booster, and flu shot. Make sure your family members are also up to date on their vaccinations to help prevent the spread of diseases.
Pregnant women are at a higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 compared to those who have not been impacted by the infectious disease. Research shows babies of pregnant people with COVID-19 may be at an increased risk of preterm birth and other complications. High fevers caused by any infection during the first trimester of pregnancy can also increase the risk of certain birth defects. The COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people ages 5 and older, including those who are pregnant, lactating, trying to become pregnant or might get pregnant.
3. Take folic acid. Folic acid is a B vitamin that prevents …….