January 2015 is National Birth Defects Prevention Month! The theme is "Making Healthy Choices to Prevent Birth Defects - Make a PACT for Prevention."
Birth defects are common, costly and critical. All women, including teens, can make healthy choices that increase their chances of having a healthy baby. Make a PACT for prevention by Planning ahead, Avoiding harmful substances, Choosing a healthy lifestyle and Talking to your doctor.
Birth defects are common, costly and critical.
Every 4½ minutes, a baby is born with a major birth defect. Professionals, community groups and the public can act to reduce the risk of certain birth defects, detect those that occur as soon as possible and prevent secondary complications.
Not all birth defects can be prevented; however, all women, including teens, can lower their risk of having a baby born with a birth defect by following some basic health guidelines throughout their reproductive years. .
What are Birth Defects?
Birth defects are abnormal conditions that happen before or at the time of birth. Some are mild–like an extra finger or toe. Some are very serious–like a heart defect. They can cause physical, mental, or medical problems. Some, like Down syndrome or sickle cell anemia, are caused by genetic factors. Others are caused by certain drugs, medicines or chemicals.
But the causes of most birth defects are still a mystery. Researchers are working hard to learn the causes of birthdefects so that we can find ways to prevent them.
Did You Know?
- Birth defects are the leading cause of death in children less than one year of age–causing one in every five deaths.
- 18 babies die each day in the U.S. as a result of a birth defect. Defects of the heart and limbs are the most common kinds of birth defects.
- Millions of dollars are spent every year for the car e and treatment of children with birth defects. Birth defects are a serious problem.
How Serious are Birth Defects?
One in 33 babies is born with a birth defect. Many people believe that birth defects only happen to other people. Birth defects can and do happen in any family. About 120,000 babies in the U.S. each year have birth defects.
What Steps Can Women Take to Prevent Birth Defects? Avoid harmful substances
Certain substances, such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs, can increase the risk for some types of birth defects. Some substances in the workplace or home have also been linked to birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes. If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, avoiding these exposures before and during pregnancy can help increase your chances for a healthy baby. In the United States, nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned. If you do get pregnant unexpectedly, you might expose your baby to alcohol or other harmful substances before you realize you are pregnant. This is because a woman can be pregnant and not know it for up to 4 to 6 weeks.
- Avoid alcohol: There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink alcohol. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
- Avoid smoking cigarettes or using "street" drugs: Women who smoke during pregnancy place themselves and their unborn babies at risk for health problems, including premature birth, certain birth defects (like cleft lip and/or palate), and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). A woman who uses illegal—or "street"—drugs during pregnancy can have a baby who is born premature; has a low birth weight; suffers drug withdrawal; or has other health problems, such as birth defects.
Actions and activities
- Alcohol: Abstain from drinking alcohol if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Contact your doctor, Alcoholics Anonymous, or local alcohol treatment center (findtreatment.samhsa.gov) if you need help to stop drinking.
- Smoking: 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. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or go to Smokefree.gov.
- NCADD's Alcohol and Pregnancy - Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE)
- National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) (www.nofas.org)
- National Birth Defects Prevention Network