JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Birth defects affect 1 in 33 babies in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statistics show heart defects are the most common defect. Others include spina bifida, cleft palate, clubfoot, and a congenital dislocated hip.
The cause of most birth defects are unknown, but the Florida Health Department says most occur in the first three months of pregnancy. However, there are steps a mother can take before getting pregnant to help reduce chances the baby will be born with a defect.
Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is important because it helps prevent some of the major birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine. Take a vitamin that has folic acid every day at least one month before becoming pregnant, and continue during pregnancy. Check the label for “100%” of the daily value (DV): 400 mcg. And eat foods that have folic acid: certain bread, breakfast cereals, and corn masa flour. Check the nutrient facts label of each product for “100%” DV of folic acid.
Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight. Obesity increases the chances of several serious birth defects and pregnancy complications. Talk with your health care provider about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight before you get pregnant.
See your health care provider before stopping or starting any medicine. Many women need to take medicine to stay healthy during pregnancy. If you are planning to become pregnant, talk to your health care provider about the medicines you’re taking.
Get up to date with all vaccines. Vaccines help protect you and your baby against diseases. You can get the flu shot before or during each pregnancy, and the whooping cough vaccine in the last three months of each pregnancy.
Quit the habits that aren’t healthy for you, your pregnancy and your baby:
- Alcohol: there is no safe amount of alcohol when you’re trying to get pregnant and during pregnancy.
- Tobacco: You know that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and other major health problems, but smoking while pregnant can also hurt your baby and can cause birth defects.
- Drugs: Using drugs while pregnant can hurt your baby. If you can’t stop using, talk to your health care provider about counseling, treatment, and other support services.
The CDC says fewer defects happen in the last six months of pregnancy when tissues and organs are developing.