A birth defect is a complication that occurs to a baby during its development in the uterus. The majority of birth defects happen during the first trimester. A birth defect may bring about change in how the body appears, functions, or both. About 4% of babies born have natural birth defects that occur regardless of the conditions of the pregnancy. There are a variety of steps that can be taken to prevent birth defects.
Do not drink any beer, wine, liquor or any other form of alcohol during conception or pregnancy. There is no safe amount of alcohol that you can drink during pregnancy, and when a woman drinks, the alcohol passes from her bloodstream into the fetus. Prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Similar to alcohol there is no safe amount of smoke that a pregnant woman and baby can be exposed to, so always avoid smoking cigarettes and secondhand smoke during conception and pregnancy. Tobacco intake increases the risk of a premature birth, low birth weight, birth defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate, and death.
Particular over-the-counter and prescription drugs, referred to as “teratogens,” carry a high risk of causing birth defects. If you are taking medication, speak with your physician before conceiving. •Teratogenic drugs are most dangerous between the first and eighth week of pregnancy, a period when many women may not realize they are pregnant. Thus, it is very important to consult with your doctor if you are taking medication and wish to conceive. You will also want to be sure to avoid all forms of recreational drugs.
There are many everyday solvents, insecticides, and toxic fumes that may cause birth defects, and you should avoid situations in which you may be exposed to such agents. The list of potentially dangerous toxins is long, and exposure can occur in a number of different ways: refinishing furniture or painting, agricultural work, ingesting polluted water, living near a hazardous waste site, and so on. The most common toxins a mother might come into contact with are pesticides, solvents, and colorants.
Take folic acid. This B vitamin is crucial to preventing neural tube defects in a baby’s brain and spine, including anencephaly and spina bifida, respectively. It is recommended that expectant women take at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. You should begin taking folic acid a minimum of 3 months before you become pregnant. The safest approach is to make sure you are taking 400 mcg of folic acid daily before you become pregnant, and continue taking this amount at least through the first three months of the pregnancy. Good sources of folic acid are cereal, spinach, beans, asparagus, oranges and peanuts. However, the easiest way to obtain the recommended amount of folic acid is by taking a multivitamin.
You may need to change your diet. Particular foods may contain toxins dangerous to both you and your unborn child, including mercury, salmonella, listeria, shigella, and E. coli, and thus should be avoided before conception and during a pregnancy. Avoid eating fish such as swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel, as they may contain high levels of mercury, which can lead to hearing and vision problems, as well as brain damage. Do not eat raw fish or shellfish during pregnancy. Avoid eating sushi and sashimi, oysters, clams and scallops. Food poisoning can also be very dangerous to an unborn child. Make sure to fully cook poultry, meats and eggs, and avoid luncheon meats, hotdogs, and foods that contain raw or partially cooked eggs.
The healthier your body is, the lower the chances are that your newborn will have a birth defect. It is thus important to eat a balanced diet, engage in regular exercise, and control your bodyweight. A balanced diet will include the following: 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day; 2-3 portions of (low-fat) dairy products a day; protein-rich foods every day; and 2 portions of fish a week. Be careful to check each food for potentially high levels of mercury or other toxins. Speak with your doctor before beginning or continuing an exercise regime, particularly if you have any medical conditions that may pose a risk to you and your baby. 30 minutes of low-impact exercise each day is recommended for pregnant women. Healthy activities include riding a stationary bike, swimming, low-impact aerobics and, particularly, walking. Be careful to stay hydrated and avoid overheating. Obesity increases the chances a newborn will have birth defects, including heart complications and spina bifida. Thus, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep your weight under control before a pregnancy. Also, if you have a physical condition that may put added strain on your body during pregnancy, or create a risk for your baby, speak with a doctor about ways you can get it under control.
Particular infections can cause birth defects, and thus you should carefully avoid situations that may cause infections, and make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Rubella (German measles) is a particularly dangerous cause of birth defects in children. Make sure to speak with your doctor before you become pregnant in order to have your blood tested for immunity against this infection. Toxoplasmosis can cause hearing and vision problems, as well as intellectual disabilities. The parasite spreads through the eating of unwashed vegetables and raw or undercooked meat, as well as through contact with animal (particularly cat) feces. Make sure to wash and cook vegetables and meat, use gloves when gardening, and avoid emptying litter boxes. Cytomegalovirus can cause hearing and vision problems, as well as intellectual disabilities, and spreads through children’s urine and other bodily fluids. If you are around children on a regular basis, it is recommended that you use gloves when changing diapers and wash your hands regularly.
Consulting your physician before and during your pregnancy is crucial to preventing birth defects in your baby. Visit your physician before you become pregnant to discuss your family and medical history, and begin prenatal care as soon as you know that you are pregnant. However no matter how careful you are, a birth defect can still occur. Having children wear medical jewelry will identify any medical conditions your child may have to others caring to them.