We know that expecting moms and dads have a million things to worry about. We also know that not all birth defects are preventable. But as Benjamin Franklin said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So let’s talk about what we can do to prevent as many birth defects as possible.


Preventing many birth defects can be as easy as planning ahead and choosing the healthiest lifestyle you can. This starts with women adding folic acid to their diets. It’s recommended that a woman take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily and according to the CDC, all women ages 15 to 45 should be taking it. Folic acid can be found naturally in fresh foods such as strawberries, asparagus, spinach and beans but those foods don’t supply a very consistent source of folic acid. However, fortified foods (foods with added nutrients) and supplements help women of childbearing age have a much more consistent and stable source of folic acid to prevent major birth defects that involve the brain, spine, and limbs of the growing baby. These defects are called neural tube defects and they form in the first month of development, long before many women realize they are even pregnant. Folic acid will not only help with neural tube defects, but may also help prevent low birth weight (less than 5 ½ lbs.), cleft lip and palate and miscarriages.


Avoiding harmful substances is a key step women can take to help prevent birth defects. Some things to avoid are: alcohol which can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, smoking which increases the chances of a baby being born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, the use of marijuana or other street drugs which all can lead to miscarriage, still births, and low birth weights.


According to Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, 1 out of 33 births are affected by a birth defect. This is 2,000 babies each year in Wisconsin and according to the CDC there are nearly 120,000 babies affected nationally each year by birth defects. By choosing a healthy lifestyle, such as, staying active, striving to maintain a healthy weight, controlling diabetes, monitoring environmental risks like mosquitoes and preventing infections, a mother can take an active role in preventing possible defects.


Prior to and throughout the pregnancy, a mom should talk with her health-care provider about medications and supplements they might be taking and how those may affect the health of the baby. Be sure you protect yourself from infections with good hand hygiene and remain up to date on all immunizations. If a pregnant mom were not update on her immunization to prevent her from contracting a disease such as Rubella, the baby could be born with a number of birth defects such as: deafness, cataracts or glaucoma, and heart defects.


Giving babies the best possible start to life can be very simple, so why not do all we can to prevent birth defects.


Submitted by: Anna Treague, RN, Burnett County Public Health

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