Not all birth defects can be prevented, but a woman can increase her chances of having a healthy baby by managing her health conditions and adopting healthy behaviors before becoming pregnant. Healthy Communities, Healthy Babies is the motto for Birth Defects Awareness Month, January 2023.
Attempt to get healthy before and during pregnancy by actively trying to plan, avoid harmful substances, choose a healthy lifestyle, and talk with your healthcare provider.
1. Plan ahead
Get 400 micrograms (mg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is a B vitamin. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body for at least one month before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the brain and spine.
It can help prevent major birth defects of the developing brain and spine. Women can get folic acid from fortified foods or supplements, or a combination of the two, besides a varied diet rich in folate, including dried beans, legumes, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, peanuts, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, seafood, eggs, oranges, papaya, mango, sweet corn, and others.
See a healthcare professional regularly. A woman should be sure to see her doctor when planning a pregnancy and start prenatal care as soon as she thinks she is pregnant.
It is important to see the doctor regularly throughout pregnancy, so a woman should keep all her prenatal care appointments. If you are trying to have a baby or are just thinking about it, it is not too early to get ready for pregnancy.
2. Avoid Harmful Substances
Avoid alcohol at any time during pregnancy. Alcohol in a woman’s bloodstream passes to the developing baby through the umbilical cord.
There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy as all nutrients in a woman’s bloodstream pass to the developing baby through the umbilical cord. While trying to get pregnant, there is no known safe amount of alcohol used.
There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy. Many alcohol is equally harmful, including wine and beer. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. The best advice for women is to stop drinking alcohol when trying to get pregnant.
Avoid smoking cigarettes. The dangers of smoking during pregnancy include preterm birth, certain birth defects, and infant death. Even being around tobacco smoke puts a woman and her pregnancy at risk for problems.
Quitting smoking before getting pregnant is best. For a woman who is already pregnant, quitting as early as possible can still help protect against some health problems for the baby, such as low birth weight. It’s never too late to quit smoking.
Avoid marijuana and other drugs. A woman who uses marijuana or other drugs during pregnancy can have a baby who is born preterm, has a low birth weight or has other health problems, such as birth defects.
Since we know of no safe level of marijuana use during pregnancy, women who are pregnant, or considering becoming pregnant, should not use marijuana, even in states where marijuana is legal.
If you are using marijuana for medical reasons, speak with your doctor about an alternative therapy with pregnancy-specific safety data.
Prevent infections. Some infections that a woman can get during pregnancy can be harmful to the developing baby and even cause birth defects.
Avoid overheating and treat fevers as soon as possible. Overheating can be caused by a fever or exposure to high temperatures (like getting in a hot tub) that increase the body’s core temperature. Overheating can increase the chances of having a baby with certain birth defects.
3. Choose a Healthy Lifestyle
Keep diabetes under control. Poor control of diabetes during pregnancy increases the chances of birth defects and other problems during pregnancy.
It can also cause serious complications for the woman. Proper healthcare before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects and other poor outcomes.
Strive to reach and maintain a healthy weight. A woman who is obese (a BMI of 30 or higher) before pregnancy is at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy.
Obesity also increases a pregnant woman’s risk of several serious birth defects. Even if a woman is not actively planning a pregnancy, getting healthy can help boost her health and her mood.
4. Talk With Your Healthcare Provider
Talk to a healthcare provider about taking any medications. If a woman is pregnant or planning a pregnancy, she should not stop taking the medications she needs or begin taking new medications without first talking with her healthcare provider. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medications, and dietary or herbal products.
Talk to a healthcare provider about vaccinations (shots). Most vaccinations are safe during pregnancy, and some vaccinations, such as the flu vaccine and the Tdap vaccine (adult tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis vaccine), are specifically recommended during pregnancy.
Some vaccines protect women against infections that can cause birth defects. Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep a woman and her baby healthy. She should talk to her doctor about which it recommended vaccines for her during pregnancy.
Pregnant women are more susceptible to severe illness from the flu, including hospitalizations and even death, when compared to women who are not pregnant.
Pregnant women with the flu also have an increased risk of serious problems during their pregnancy, including preterm birth. Getting a flu shot is the first and most important step in protecting against the flu.
The flu shot given during pregnancy has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby (for up to 6 months after delivery) from the flu.
Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it can also be stressful for some. Knowing that you are doing all that you can to get ready for pregnancy, stay healthy during pregnancy, and give your baby a healthy start in life will help you have peace of mind.
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