Start Now to Protect Your Future Children from Birth Defects

Start Now to Protect Your Future Children from Birth DefectsEven if you’re not yet pregnant, but want children in the future, it’s never too soon to start taking steps to protect your children from birth defects. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and birth defects are a lot more common than you might think. One out of every 33 American babies has a birth defect, and birth defects cause one-fifth of deaths in infants less than a year old.

Birth defects include such conditions as Down syndrome, spina bifida, cleft lip, cleft palate, and atrioventricular septal defect, which causes a hole in the heart. Fortunately, you can prevent birth defects in your unborn children by taking good care of yourself before and during pregnancy. The health of fathers also has a role to play in whether or not the baby suffers a birth defect, so men should also take good care of themselves to help ensure the future health of their sons and daughters.

Prepare for Conception in Advance

Unplanned pregnancies account for as many as half of all pregnancies in the United States, and many birth defects happen because women smoked, drank alcohol, used the wrong medications, or were exposed to certain environmental toxins before they were aware they were pregnant. By planning your pregnancy, you can be prepared by:

  • Using folic acid supplements or eating foods rich in folic acid to protect the health of your baby’s brain and spine
  • Avoiding drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and environmental substances that could harm a developing baby
  • Eating right and exercising regularly
  • Controlling diabetes
  • Avoiding or getting treated for sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia that can cause birth defects
  • Getting vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, and the flu
  • Avoiding foods that carry a high risk of food-borne illness

Many of the prescription medications we dispense at are safe for use during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor before using any prescription or over-the-counter drugs if you’re trying to get pregnant or are pregnant.

Eat Right During Pregnancy and Stay Healthy

Eating a healthy diet during pregnancy can help ensure that your unborn baby has all the nutrients it needs to develop properly. Eating 400 mcg of folic acid from dietary sources or from supplements each day can reduce your baby’s risk of anencephaly, or incomplete formation of the scalp, brain, and skull, and of spina bifida. Foods high in folic acid include beef liver, lentils, broccoli, black-eyed peas, and asparagus.

In general, you should focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.

Men, too, should make sure to consume appropriate amounts of folic acid and avoid tobacco, drugs, alcohol, and environmental toxins if they are trying to conceive a child. Men may also be capable of passing genetic health problems on to their offspring.Men in certain occupations may have a higher risk of fathering babies with birth defects.

Eat Right During Pregnancy and Stay HealthySeek Medical Care

Prenatal checkups are crucial to the health of your developing baby. These visits can help you and your doctor or midwife address any health risks that may arise as soon as they arise. By seeing your doctor regularly during pregnancy you can make sure that you have all the vaccinations you might need when you need them.

Your doctor can also monitor your baby for signs of birth defects. Both parents should discuss family medical history with your doctor, who may be able to recommend genetic or nutritional counseling if necessary.

If you have diabetes, you need to control your blood sugar during pregnancy in order to lower your baby’s risk of birth defects. It’s possible to have diabetes without realizing it, so ask your doctor if you might be at risk. Ideally, if you do have undiagnosed diabetes, it would be best to get a diagnosis and get the disease under control before getting pregnant. Gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that occurs in two to 10 percent of pregnancies and goes away after the baby is born, can also develop when your body isn’t able to produce enough insulin for both your own and your baby’s needs. You can lower your risk of gestational diabetes by living a healthy lifestyle and eating a healthy diet before pregnancy.

Being born with a birth defect can give your baby a rocky start in life, and can even lead to his or her premature death. But it’s not just a matter of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best — you can do a lot to prevent birth defects in your unborn children. Start by preparing your lifestyle and body for conception and planning your pregnancy in advance. That way, you won’t have to worry that your baby will suffer birth defects because of something you did before you were aware of your pregnancy. You’ll be able to give your child the best head start in life from the moment he or she is conceived.