Sometimes, birth defects can be prevented. Birth defects are those present in the baby at birth or during the first month of life. There are two types of defects: genetic, which are inherited from the mother or father, and environmental, those caused by infectious diseases or toxic substances (e.g., drugs, alcohol, tobacco smoke, and toxic chemicals), to which the baby was exposed while in the uterus. The most common condition resulting from birth defects, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is Down syndrome, a chromosomal that accounts for approximately 6,000 births in the U.S. each year, or 1 in nearly 700 babies. The most common category is brain development, affecting some 10 in every 1,000 live births.
January Is Birth Defect Prevention Month
With the help of the CDC, an international group of individuals created the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), an organization dedicated to birth defects surveillance, research, and prevention. The theme for 2017 is “#Prevent2Protect.” The focus of the campaign is on how women can reduce the risk of infection during pregnancy, to help protect their developing baby. Both organizations, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, have issued the following recommendations to prevent birth defects:
- Taking 400 mcg folic acid daily
- Maintaining regular prenatal care
- Avoiding alcohol, drugs, and tobacco
- Staying healthy by watching weight and keeping diabetes under control.
- Taking vaccinations to prevent infectious diseases such as the flu, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough.
Of course, not all birth defects can be prevented. According to the organization, “January is also a time to recognize people living with birth defects. Thanks to ongoing medical advancements, children born with birth defects are living longer. These children and their families still need help. They often need specialized treatment, continued care, and strong social support to improve their overall quality of life.” The CDC also has tips for families of children with a birth defect.
Good to Know…
- Each year in the US, about 120,000 babies (of a total of 4 million, 3.75 percent) are born with a birth defect, on average, one every 4½ minutes.
- Birth defects are the largest cause, some 20 percent, of infant deaths.
- Premature birth, those born before 37 weeks in utero, about 9.6 percent of all births, is the leading cause of infant death, according to the March of Dimes. For those babies who survive, long-term complications include cognitive delays, hearing or vision loss, cerebral palsy, autism, and behavioral disabilities.