Monday, January 14, 2013

National Birth Defect Prevention Month

One in every thirty-three babies born in the United States is affected by a birth defect. According to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), this staggering statistic is the leading cause of infant mortality in the country. As alarming as this information may be, the NBDPN dedicates the entire month of January to building awareness for the prevention of birth defects.  

folic acid
Protect your baby before and after birth by being
aware of the risk of developing birth defects.
This January’s National Birth Defect Prevention Month theme is: “Birth defects are common, costly, and critical.” The NBDPN is focusing on medication use and pregnancy, two elements that factor greatly into the risk of developing birth defects. Two-thirds of women take one or more medications during pregnancy. Proper healthcare before and during pregnancy is essential to preventing birth defects and other pregnancy complications.
There are various types of birth defects and numerous categories that they fall under. The major categories include: the 
  • Central nervous system 
  • Eyes 
  • Cardiovascular 
  • Orofacial 
  • Gastrointestinal 
  • Musculoskeletal 
  • Chromosomal anomalies 
The four most common birth defects in the US are congenital heart defects, cleft lip and/or palate, Down syndrome, and Spina bifida. Congenital heart defects affect one in 100 babies, and are an abnormality in any part of the heart that is present at birth. 

Cleft lip and/palate is a birth defect in which the baby's upper lip and/or palate does not form completely and has an opening in it, afflicting one in 700 babies. Down syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that includes a combination of birth defects. Those affected have some degree of intellectual disability, characteristic facial features and, often, heart defects, as well as other health problems. The severity of these problems varies greatly among the one in 800 affected each year. And lastly, Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects the lower back and, sometimes, the spinal cord of one baby in every 2,500 born.There are three types of Spina bifida, which from the least to most severe form include Occulta, Meningocele, Myelomeningocele.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is currently too difficult to pinpoint what causes each specific birth defect. However, there are many risk factors that can be controlled and therefore, can lower your chances of having a child with a birth defect. They list  risk factors associated with birth defects as smoking before and during a pregnancy, obesity, poor control of diabetes and taking certain medication during pregnancy

In addition, the CDC recommends these 10 steps to help reduce the risk of birth defects: 

1. Take 400 micro-grams of Folic Acid every day

Folic acid is a B vitamin. If a woman consumes enough folic acid at least one month before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine. Talk to your doctor before taking folic acid or any over the counter vitamins or medications.
2.     Don't drink alcohol at any time during pregnancy
When a woman drinks alcohol, unfortunately so does her unborn baby. Alcohol in the woman’s blood passes through the placenta to her baby through the umbilical cord. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born with a fetal alcohol syndrome.
3.     Don’t smoke
Smoking before or during pregnancy can
cause birth defects.
Smoking during pregnancy exposes babies to harmful chemicals that inevitably cause birth defects. Even being around cigarette smoke puts a woman and her unborn baby at risk for complications. Quitting smoking before getting pregnant is best.
4. Do not use “street” drugs
       A woman who uses illegal—or “street”—drugs during pregnancy can have a baby who is born with birth defects. It also is important that a woman not use "street" drugs after she gives birth, because such drugs can be passed through breast milk to her baby and can affect the baby’s growth and development.
5. Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications
     Taking certain medications during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects, but the safety of many medications taken by pregnant women has been difficult to determine. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, you should not stop taking medications you need or begin taking new medications without first talking with your doctor. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary or herbal products. 

6. Prevent infections
         Some infections that a woman can get during pregnancy can be harmful to the unborn baby. Learn how to help prevent infections. 

7. Talk to your doctor about vaccinations
          Many vaccinations are safe and recommended during pregnancy, but some are not. Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep a woman and her baby healthy. 

8. Keep diabetes under control
          Poor control of diabetes during pregnancy increases the chances for birth defects and other problems for the baby. It can also cause serious complications for the woman. Proper healthcare before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects and other poor outcomes. 

9. Reach and maintain a healthy weight
          A woman who is obese before pregnancy is at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy. Obesity in the woman also increases the risk of several serious birth defects for the baby. If you are overweight or obese, talk with your doctor about ways to reach a healthy weight before you get pregnant. 

10. See a health care professional regularly

A woman should be sure to see her doctor when planning a pregnancy and start prenatal care as soon as she thinks that she is pregnant. It is important to see the doctor regularly throughout pregnancy, so a woman should keep all her prenatal care appointments. 

As American icon G.I. Joe would say, “…knowing is half the battle,” and although January may raise your knowledge of the prevention of birth defects, information can only get you so far. It still may be difficult to obtain the prenatal vitamins and medications you need to sustain a healthy pregnancy

However, FamilyWize is here to help. Partnered with over 61,000 participating pharmacies across the United States, the free FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card provides you with discounts and savings on your prenatal vitamins and medications. Based on your doctor’s recommendations and the prescriptions you are given, visit the FamilyWize Drug Price Lookup Tool to see the discounts FamilyWize may offer.

Derek Slichter
Contributing Writer

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