(RxWiki News) Each January, the United States observes National Birth Defects Prevention Month.
This year, the theme is “Healthy Communities, Healthy Babies.” Health officials emphasized the importance of public health in the fight to prevent birth defects.
Here are some of the most important tips health officials recommend for preventing birth defects:
Ideally, planning for pregnancy starts before you become pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even if you are generally healthy, some advance preparation is a good idea.
For instance, pregnant women and their babies face a higher risk of problems if mom gets the flu while pregnant. Getting a flu shot either before or during pregnancy may protect both of you, but talk to your doctor first.
If you have any kind of chronic medical condition — especially if you take medications — the condition or the medications might affect the baby. Some medications can actually cause birth defects, so you’ll want to discuss this issue with your doctor, too.
Avoid Harmful Substances
Tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs can harm both you and your baby.
Babies of mothers who don't smoke are less likely to be born early or to develop asthma than babies of moms who do smoke. When you nix the nicotine, your baby will be less likely to have weak lungs or other health problems.
Your baby's brain is very susceptible to the effects of alcohol and illegal drugs. Avoid both throughout your pregnancy to help prevent problems.
Other substances in your environment can make it more difficult to get pregnant or cause problems for you and your baby. For instance, when you’re pregnant, someone else should change your kitty’s litter box to keep you from becoming infected with toxoplasmosis. This parasitic disease is found in cats’ feces and can be spread to you or your baby.
Choose a Healthy Lifestyle
Eating a healthy diet is one of the best ways to make your pregnancy healthier. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil provide you with the nutrients you and your baby need.
One of the most important nutrients during pregnancy is a B vitamin called folic acid. Pregnant women who take in enough folic acid are less likely to have babies with problems in the spine or brain. You need a minimum of 400 micrograms of folic acid each day, and the CDC recommends that you start to take it at least one month before you try to get pregnant.
If you are overweight, it’s best to try to attain a healthy weight before becoming pregnant, according to the CDC. Women who are overweight have a higher risk of pregnancy complications like high blood pressure.
Other parts of a healthy lifestyle include sufficient exercise and adequate sleep.
Talk to Your Doctor
Keeping your doctor informed helps keep you and your baby safe and healthy.
Your doctor needs to know about your family history, as some diseases are genetic. If you’ve ever been pregnant before — especially if you’ve had a miscarriage, stillbirth or complications of pregnancy like high blood pressure — be sure your doctor has all the details.
The CDC says you should make a list of any medicines, vitamins, supplements, or herbs you use and discuss whether you should continue taking them.
Your doctor is your partner during pregnancy, so keep your appointments and communicate, communicate, communicate.
A Message of Hope
Some things in life seem to happen for no real reason.
You can’t control your genes, for instance, although genetic counseling could help you identify possible risks. Genetic counseling includes tests for a variety of genetic diseases. A genetic counselor can also discuss the odds that your baby may have a particular condition and tell you what your options are.
Many of the other factors that affect your pregnancy and your baby, however, are under your control — like not smoking, eating a healthy diet and exercising. Improving your own health boosts both your chances and your baby's chances of a healthy life.
Talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns about your pregnancy or becoming pregnant.