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The Mountaineer Online

Medical experts offer tips to help prevent birth defects

Michelle Lobaito, LPN

Army Public Health Nursing, USA MEDDAC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines birth defects as conditions that cause structural changes to the body (present at birth) and have serious, adverse effects on the health, development or functional ability. About one in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect. Babies born with birth defects have a greater chance of illness and long-term disability than babies born without birth defects.

The cause of some birth defects is unknown. Additionally, factors other than genetics have been linked to the cause of birth defects. For example, the use of tobacco, alcohol, certain medications, illegal drugs and exposure to chemicals and infectious disease during pregnancy are factors that can be associated with birth defects.

The lifestyle choices a woman makes during pregnancy can positively impact the health of her baby. Many birth defects develop in the first three months of pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that you “act like you are already pregnant before trying to get pregnant.”

Steps that a woman can take to prepare for a healthy pregnancy and birth defect risks include:
  • Take 400 mcg of folic acid every day. Consuming the recommen-ded daily allowance of folic acid during pregnancy can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.
  • Talk to your health care pro-vider about reaching a healthy weight. Women who are obese before pregnancy are at higher risk for complications during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes. Obesity also increases the risk of serious birth defects.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. When a woman drinks alcohol, so does her unborn baby. There is not a known safe time or amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a group of conditions called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The effects can cause physical health problems and problems with behavior and learning that last a lifetime. FASD is 100 percent preventable.
  • Don’t use tobacco. Using tobacco during pregnancy can cause premature birth, cleft lip or palate, and infant death. Inhaling secondhand smoke also poses risks to both the mother and unborn baby. If you smoke, quitting before you become pregnant is best. For women who are already pregnant, quitting as soon as possible will still help protect the unborn baby from health problems, such as low birth weight.
  • Prevent infections and illness. Talk to your health care provider about your immunizations. Some immunizations are recommended before you become pregnant, during pregnancy, or not until after delivery.

Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep you healthy and help keep your baby from illness or potentially lifelong health problems.

To help stop the spread of infections, be sure to wash your hands often, especially in the following situations: after using the bathroom; changing diapers; touching raw meat, eggs or unwashed vegetables; preparing and eating food; gardening or touching dirt or soil; handling pets and cleaning up after pets; and being around people who are sick.
Pregnancy is an exciting time! Do everything you can to keep yourself and your baby healthy during your pregnancy to give him or her a healthy start at life.

For more information on birth defects, visit the March of Dimes at, the National Institute of Health at or the CDC at

For questions about your pregnancy or if you want to enroll in Guthrie’s Childbirth Class, call Army Public Health Nursing at 772-6404 / 6984.

The Mountaineer



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