If you are planning to start a family or are already on your journey to welcome your bundle of joy, it’s important to understand the risk of birth defects. A birth defect also called as a congenital abnormality is a health problem that a baby is born with. There are many different types of birth defects, common one’s being Down’s syndrome, cleft lip, spina bifida and heart defects. These can range from mild to severe.
While there is little that you can do to prevent birth defects in the first place, but there are multiple aspects of prenatal care that can help protect your unborn baby. And if your baby does happen to have a fetal condition or birth defect, advancements in medicine have revolutionized an affected baby’s ability to survive and thrive after birth.
Learn more about the awareness of birth defects and what you can do to prevent them.
Is it possible to prevent birth defects?
Though it may not be possible to prevent all birth defects, proper prenatal care and awareness of past and existing conditions can go a long way with prevention.
Prenatal care includes taking appropriate vitamins if you are of reproductive age and especially, if you are actively trying to conceive and/or as soon as you discover you are pregnant. A daily dose of prenatal vitamin that includes at least 5 mili grams of folic acid can help in the prevention of a variety of birth defects include neural tube defects.
In addition, staying away from illegal drugs, tobacco and alcohol can significantly help prevent birth defects and complications associated with pregnancy. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause a range of disabilities, miscarriage and stillbirth among others.
While smoking may result in certain birth defects like cleft lip or cleft palate, preterm birth and infant death. It's never too late to quit smoking or alcohol and for a woman who is pregnant, quitting as early as possible can still help protect against some health problems for the baby. Marijuana or other drugs consumed during pregnancy may be linked to lower birth weight in infants.
Awareness of past or current conditions can help your healthcare provider plan preventive measures for your next pregnancy. For example, a deficiency in folate can cause spina bifida, and if your first born had the condition, you can take a high dose of folic acid to help prevent future cases of spina bifida.
Medical conditions like unmanaged diabetes can raise the chances of having birth defects in your unborn infants and also lead to other problems during pregnancy. Talk to your physician on how to manage your blood sugar levels before and during pregnancy. Additionally, monitor your blood glucose levels regularly, follow a healthy eating plan, be physically active and take insulin as directed.
A woman should avoid overheating and treat fever promptly during pregnancy. Overheating can be caused by exposure to high temperatures such as in a bathtub or resulting from a fever. It can increase a woman’s chances of having certain birth defects in her newborn.
In addition to the above, being overweight is by far a single most factor that increases the risk of pregnancy complications and several serious birth defects. If you are obese, over-weight or even under-weight, discuss with your healthcare provider about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight before you embark on your journey to motherhood. Plus, focus on a healthy lifestyle that involves a balanced and nutritious diet along with a daily physical activity.
On your journey to a healthy and safe pregnancy, it is important to see a healthcare professional regularly. Be sure to see a doctor before you plan a pregnancy and begin with prenatal care at the earliest. Do remember to see your physician throughout your pregnancy and keep all your prenatal care appointments, even telehealth appointments a priority.
Also, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider about taking any medications as certain medications can cause serious birth defects when taken during pregnancy. Besides, talk to a healthcare provider about vaccinations (shots) to be taken during pregnancy. Most vaccines are safe during pregnancy and some, such as the flu vaccine and Tdap (adult tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine), are specifically recommended during pregnancy.
Though it’s not always possible to detect all birth defects in utero, however, high-resolution ultrasounds carried out by certified professionals do make it possible to diagnose birth defects that are likely to cause a significant impact before birth. Pregnant women are recommended to have the first-trimester nuchal translucency scan between 11 and 13 weeks and the anatomy scan between 18 and 20 weeks.
These two ultrasounds offer your healthcare provider the best opportunity for detecting birth defects. And while a maternal screening test now exists for Down syndrome, the first-trimester scan is still strongly recommended because it can detect many other serious birth defects early in pregnancy.
Pregnancy is an exciting time for every parent-to-be, but it can also be very stressful. Knowing you are doing all that you can to ensure a fruitful pregnancy including staying healthy can give your baby an exciting start and give you a peace of mind.