Birth defects are a leading cause of infant and childhood mortality. These conditions also place a considerable physical, emotional, and economic burden on individuals, families, and society-at-large. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and this year’s focus is on raising general awareness of the fact that “Every 4 ½ minutes a baby is born with a birth defect.
Although not all birth defects can be prevented, the health care community can help all women (including teens) who could become pregnant or are pregnant to lower their risk of having a baby with a birth defect by encouraging them to follow some basic health guidelines throughout their reproductive years, including:
- Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily
- Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or phenylketonuria (PKU)
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight
- Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter
- Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs
- See a health care provider regularly
- Avoid toxic substances at work or at home
- Ensure protection against domestic violence
- Know their family history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate
January is a perfect time to call additional attention to the importance of folic acid in preventing certain birth defects. The United States Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (400mcg or .4mg) of folic acid daily to prevent up to 50 - 70% of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
You can make a difference in the lives of families. Additional resources can be found on the NDBPN website. Free educational materials are also available from CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/freematerials.html
If you have questions or would like more information, please contact the Monroe County Health Department at 270-487-6782.