Understanding Birth Defects

Everything you need to know about birth defects

(RxWiki News) While not all birth defects are preventable, you can take some steps to help reduce the risk to your baby, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although the cause of most birth defects is unknown, exposure to some substances, medicines, chemicals and infectious diseases during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk.

According to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), birth defects affect about 1 in 33 babies every year. Birth defects are abnormal conditions that develop before birth, at the time the baby is born and any time after birth. In fact, the majority of birth defects are discovered within the first year of the baby's life. Thanks to recent medical advancements, children born with birth defects are living longer than ever before.

To help prevent birth defects, the NBDPN recommends that women do the following:

  • Take folic acid.
  • Get regular checkups. (It is important to start prenatal care as soon as you suspect you are pregnant.)
  • Make sure any medical conditions are under control (including diabetes).
  • Get tested for infections.
  • Get the necessary vaccinations.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid using cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs.
    • No amount of alcohol (even a small amount) is safe to drink during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant.

The majority of birth defects happen when the organs of the baby are forming, which occurs in the first three months (first trimester) of pregnancy. Factors that can have an effect on birth defects include genes, our behaviors and environmental factors.

Folic acid can help prevent major birth defects called neural tube defects (NTDs). This is because folic acid helps a baby’s brain and spine develop in the first month of pregnancy, even when a woman might not know she's pregnant.

In terms of how much folic acid is recommended, women who are planning a pregnancy or are capable of becoming pregnant are strongly advised to take at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Higher doses are recommended in certain situations. For more information on folic acid, read "Folic Acid and Pregnancy."

Speak with your health care provider about all medications you are taking. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements and nutritional supplements. Talking to your health care provider before you stop or start any medication is also very important.

Do not wait until you become pregnant to visit your doctor. Seeing your doctor before you become pregnant is the best possible scenario.

Written by Digital Pharmacist Staff