In an effort to bring awareness to birth defects and their prevention, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Unfortunately, there are about 120,000 children born each year in the United States with a birth defect. The comes out to about 1 in every 33 babies is affected.
What Are Birth Defects?
Birth defects are structural changes to a baby’s body that can affect almost any part or parts of their body, they may affect how the body works and/or looks and they can range from mild to severe. A birth defect can occur at any time during pregnancy; however, most birth defects occur during the first 3-months of the pregnancy (the time when the organs are forming). Although in many situations a birth defect is present at birth, they can be found at varying times during the first year of life.
In many situations, a birth defect may be hereditary and therefore uncontrollable, but for some birth defects there is no known cause. In some cases, lifestyle behaviors may be the cause, such as the use of alcohol, drugs and/or tobacco during the pregnancy. For example, consuming alcohol during pregnancy may result in a birth defect known as fetal alcohol syndrome. There are some things that may increase the risk of birth defects, including:
- The mother having certain medical conditions, such as uncontrolled diabetes before and during the pregnancy or being obese
- Drinking alcohol, smoking and/or taking certain street drugs during the pregnancy
- Taking certain prescription medications
- Having a family member with a birth defect
- Becoming pregnant at an older age, generally over the age of 34
It is important to note that having one or more of these risks does not mean that a baby will definitely be affected with a birth defect and a baby can be born with a birth defect even when they do not have any increased risks.
Although a birth defect cannot always be prevented, there are a few things women can do before and during their pregnancy that may help to decrease the risk of a birth defect. It is extremely important to see your healthcare provider as soon as you suspect you are pregnant. You will need to attend all scheduled prenatal appointments, get the recommended dosage of folic acid, do not smoke, drink or use street drugs and learn how to prevent infections during pregnancy. If you are taking medications, it is important to talk with your medical provider about possible risks associated with the medications. However, do not discontinue any prescription medications with talking to your doctor first.