Nutrition Community

National Birth Defects Prevention Awareness Month

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
01/03/14  8:42 PM PST
Birth Defects Prevention

More than 120,000 babies are born with a birth defect each year in the United States. Birth defects can occur in any family regardless of race, health history, economic status, or level of education. There are many different kinds of birth defects, including congenital heart defects, cleft lip or palate, defects of the brain and spine, bones, muscles and internal organs, and a variety of genetic syndromes such as Down syndrome. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby’s health while others have life-threatening or life-long effects, which can often be lessened by early detection and treatment.

Public awareness, expert medical care, and accurate and early diagnosis are all essential for prevention and treatment of individuals born with these medical conditions. Strong social support systems and community resources are crucial for caregivers of those with chronic medical needs. A large portion of Shield HealthCare’s customers provide care in the home for cherished loved ones with chronic medical needs. We recognize and support the devoted families and professional caregivers who dedicate their lives to this labor of love.

The Role of Nutrition and Prenatal Care

Although not all birth defects and genetic disorders can be prevented, the risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices and medical care before and during pregnancy. About half of all pregnancies are unplanned, contributing to a late start into prenatal care and causing many parents to miss the crucial early weeks of embryonic development. The health of both parents prior to pregnancy can affect the risk of having a child with a birth defect. Food intake, life-style choices, factors in the environment, health conditions and medications before and during pregnancy all can play a role in reducing the risk.

Studies have demonstrated several important steps women can take to lower their risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are advised to:

  • Take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily
  • Get a medical checkup before pregnancy and talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter
  • Eat a healthy diet and work to maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid tobacco smoke, including second-hand smoke
  • Stop drinking alcohol prior to pregnancy and during pregnancy. If pregnant, stop drinking as soon as possible
  • Don’t use illegal drugs (Cannabis, if legalized, should also be avoided)
  • Avoid toxic substances at work or at home
  • Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or phenylketonuria (PKU)
  • Ensure protection against domestic violence
  • Know your family history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate

Shield HealthCare respects and understands the dedicated role of caregivers for those with birth defects and genetic disorders, and we are honored to be a reliable resource for the caregiving community.

For more information, resources and support, visit the following resources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental DisabilitiesMarch of Dimes (MOD) FoundationNational Institutes of Health (NIH)Mother To Baby and the Teratology Society.

Source information for this article was provided by the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.  This article is intended for educational use only and does not replace the advice of a medical professional.


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