How to Reduce Your Risks of Birth Defects

We know that the vast majority of babies are born healthy, but every pregnant woman has a nagging “What if…?” That question being, of course, “What if my baby has some sort of birth defect or health problem?” The increase in prenatal screening has significantly reduced the number of health emergencies and surprises in the delivery room, but the fear of the unknown still keeps many expectant mothers up at night.

The good news is that there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of congenital disorders and increase your chance of healthy baby, and since January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, it seems like the perfect time to share them with you. To get the full scoop on how to maximize your chances of having a healthy baby, check out this article from Mom Loves Best.

What is a Congenital Disorder, Anyway?

A congenital disorder is any health condition that is present at birth. The term “congenital disorder” is used synonymously with the term “birth defect.” Some congenital disorders are caused by unknown factors or factors beyond your control (like genetics), but many are preventable and caused by a mother’s lifestyle choices or environmental exposure to certain things during pregnancy.

Things You Can Do

One of the very best things you can do to for the health of your baby is to get quality prenatal care. Not only will your doctor give you valuable information about how to care for yourself and your baby to ensure the best possible outcome, but they will also prescribe prenatal vitamins with folic acid (necessary for proper brain and spinal cord development), or recommend an over-the-counter variety that will suit your body best. If you don’t know how to get prenatal care or think you can’t afford it, every state in the U.S. had a program to help. Call 1-800-311-BABY(2229) to get connected to a program near you.

You should also eat well and exercise regularly since your own physical health can significantly impact your baby’s health. Diabetes and obesity can increase your risk of a congenital heart defect, miscarriage, or other health problem, but be advised you should never try to lose weight or significantly restrict your calories while pregnant. Your baby needs good nutrition, and that means getting all the nutrients you can from a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and healthy whole grains. Particularly if you are overweight, speak with your doctor about your diet and exercise regimen and follow their advice on how to proceed during pregnancy.

Things You Should Avoid

There are several unhealthy things that can increase your baby’s risk of being born with a congenital defect if exposed. Many of them you probably already know – alcohol, smoking, and illegal drugs. But the list of “things to avoid during pregnancy” is actually much longer.

Not only should you avoid illegal drugs, but many (usually safe) prescription drugs are not safe for you to take during pregnancy. Always check with your OB/GYN prior to taking a new medication – whether prescribed or over the counter – to ensure it is okay to take.

Avoid raw and rare meat, soft unpasteurized cheeses, unpasteurized milk and other dairy products, and raw eggs. These can harbor bacteria that may harm your baby and contribute to a birth defect.

You should also avoid hot baths (above 100 degrees) and hot tubs, as they can cause your body temperature to rise and an increased body temperature is associated with birth defects.

The Bottom Line

While some congenital disorders are caused by factors beyond your control like genetics, many of them are actually preventable. That’s why education and awareness are so important, and that women understand that a doctor’s recommendation to make certain lifestyle changes during pregnancy is about more than being overly cautious – it’s about giving your baby the best possible start in life.

Birth Defect Awareness Infographic by Mom Loves Be

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