It’s officially 2022 and while January is not only the time for new year’s resolutions, it also happens to be National Birth Defects Prevention Month. So, whether you’re looking to plan a family or are a healthcare provider who delivers pediatric care, we’ve compiled some important facts and resources about birth defects in an effort to bring awareness to proactive women’s health.
What Are Birth Defects?
A birth defect is defined by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a structural change present at birth that can impact nearly any part of the body. It’s possible for these defects to affect how the body appears, functions or both. The CDC also reports that about one in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect and that “most birth defects occur in the first 3 months of pregnancy when the organs of the baby are forming.”
Some well-known examples of birth defects are fetal alcohol syndrome, down syndrome and cleft lip/palate. While these defects generally have recognizable visual indicators, what about the internal structural changes that are less apparent? For example, congenital heart defects (CHD) are the most common type of birth defect, but they can only be diagnosed with an echocardiogram or similar tests.
For more information, the CDC has provided a comprehensive list of defects and their descriptions.
How Can Birth Defects Be Prevented?
Not all birth defects can be prevented, however science and medicine have come a long way! If you’re a soon to be parent or are interested in learning more about birth defect conditions, here are some things to be cautious and/or aware of.
Research your family medical history
Most providers require patients to submit medical history, which should document their own past experiences as well as their family’s health information. In order to be thorough, it is important to take the time to interview family members and update your medical records with any findings – the more extensive your medical history is, the better outcomes you can achieve.
A carrier screening is a test that uses a sample of either blood, saliva or tissue from the inside of your cheek that can tell you if you carry a gene for certain genetic disorders. Many DNA test services offer a genetic screening for an additional fee, however it’s recommended to speak with your family planning doctor for their suggestions.
- The Surgeon General has created an online tool to help track family medical history records or you can schedule an appointment with your provider to review the information together, so that you can possibly identify indicators as early on as the first trimester.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists offers a thorough FAQ about the carrier screening process, so that both partners can be better prepared for what to expect.
- The Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention is a group of ten research centers funded by the CDC that are devoted to the study and prevention of birth defects. They boast one of the largest studies of birth defects ever undertaken in the United States, the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS). Read more about the CDC’s endeavors.
Reviewing current medications and other outside influences
In the United States, 9 in 10 women take medicine during their pregnancy. As it’s becoming increasingly common for women to continue their prescribed medications before and throughout their pregnancy, it’s vitally important that the potential outcomes are understood. For example, antiepileptic medications have an increased risk of developing spina bifida and cleft palate.
Beyond prescribed medications, there are other substances that can severely impact a developing fetus. In particular, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are a direct result of a mother drinking during pregnancy and can be entirely preventable. In addition, opioid use has been linked to neonatal abstinence syndrome while, similarly, tobacco products have also been associated with cleft lip/palate in newborns as well as other dangerous health risks.
Is your medication safe? Crosscheck your prescription with MedWatch, a program created by the Food & Drug Administration to inform and protect the health of mothers and their babies.
Maintaining health before and during pregnancy
If you’ve discussed your family planning with your doctor, it’s likely that they will go over a preconception healthcare plan with you. These treatment plans vary from person to person, but they all have the same end goal in mind: making sure that your health is ideal for pregnancy and proactively advocating for a healthy baby. Here are some topics you can expect or should bring up in conversation:
- Evaluating your current lifestyle choices and behaviors
- The importance of vaccinations (not only for yourself but child immunizations as well)
- Getting enough folic acid and consuming a nutritious diet (except cravings, of course)
- Avoiding chemically toxic environments
- Promoting total body wellness through exercise and/or meditation
Going into pregnancy with an open mind for making some changes will increase the odds of a healthy pregnancy, birth and baby. Addressing these talking points with your doctor is highly recommended!
Support and Accessibility
Unfortunately, not every birth defect can be predicted or prevented. While some of the resulting health issues can impact an entire family and make for some tough moments, the CDC has created a list of organizations that offer community support as well as connect patients to valuable therapy resources.
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If you’d like to learn more about our Software-as-a-Relationship approach, visit our website or stay tuned for upcoming content throughout 2022 that is aimed to help our readers stay happy and healthy.