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January – National Birth Defects Prevention Month

It all starts before you even plan your pregnancy. There is enough exposition on how to take care of your baby once the little prince/princess is in your arms. But somehow there is lesser light shed on the journey from planning a pregnancy to labor. Sure, pregnancy and parenthood are life-changing milestones; but unfortunately, 1 in every 33 children are born with a defect. This means at least one around you is likely to be born with a disorder.

Can We Avoid Them?

Not all the risks can be mitigated (yet). However, the good news is that many of the defects can be kept away with preventive measures and tips. Best for you, best for the baby. This January, let us all go ahead and spread this important word with our family and friends. Share this simple write-up with about-to-be-parents and planning-parents and together, we can reduce the statistics of children born with birth defects.

The Most Common Defects:

1. Cardiac: Defects related to the heart is the top type of defect affecting 1 in every 100 babies born. And is the leading cause of deaths in infants due to birth defects.
2. Cleft Lip/Palate: The second most common type of birth defect due to which 1 in every 700 babies is affected, is the one where the baby’s palate and upper lip is split open almost until the nose.
3. Down Syndrome: Being a chromosomal defect, the Down Syndrome is another defect which affects around 1 in every 700-800 babies are affected.
4. Spina Bifida: The next very common condition that affects newborns is the Spina Bifida in which the spine does not close properly due to the failure of fetal development. Around 1 in every 2,500 babies are noted to be victims of this condition.

Possible Causes?

While the common question is “what causes these defects”, there is no sustained answer ready in the records. Around 70% of the birth defects have unknown causes. However, it is known that the reason is quite often the result of a combination of factors. Let us run through popular observations:

1. Genes: It could be single-gene mutations (in which one or both parents pass a faulty gene to their baby) or chromosomal abnormalities (an error in the number of a structure of a particular chromosome) etc.
2. Environment: Teratogen is a term for any environmental substance that can cause birth defect(s). both illegal and prescription drugs may include these substances. Needless to mention, women are thus supposed to avoid illegal drugs. Alongside, it has become harder to determine the safety of prescription medicines as well. These days, many drugs which claim to be pregnant-friendly have also been linked to birth defects – therefore it is really important and challenging to make the right decision. Example: Accutane, an acne-fighting drug has been suspected of causing birth defects.
3. Genes and Environment together: A combination of both the above factors can also likely cause a birth defect. Heart conditions and other defects like cleft lip/palate, spina bifida etc are considered to be caused by this combination of causes.
4. Infections in pregnant women: Infections like rubella, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus (CMV), syphilis, and chickenpox (very rarely) are likely to affect the fetus development.

Prevention is Better than Cure:

Just a few simple changes in lifestyle and you can successfully reduce the risk of your little one being victimized:

a. Folic acid: Consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day to prevent spine and brain defects. This can be started 1 month prior to getting pregnant.
b. Get a green signal: Always check with your healthcare specialist before starting or stopping any medicine.
c. Stay vaccinated: Be updated about all vaccines and get the necessary vaccinations without compromise.
d. An ideal weight: It is best to maintain an ideal weight while planning for pregnancy. Both underweight/overweight can prove harmful for fetal development.
e. Quit: Smoking, alcohol, tobacco, drugs etc can directly be harmful to your baby’s health and it is highly recommended that you quit them all.
f. Maintain hygiene: We may tend to underestimate common infections like cold, fever, sneezing, coughing etc. However, these may lead to deadly conditions if left untreated for a long duration. Get yourself treated in case you catch any common infection. Even better, stay hygienic and avoid these infections. Wash your hands frequently – after sneezing, coughing, using the washroom etc. Stay away from your cat poop or litter box to avoid toxoplasmosis.
g. Healthy food habits: Always ensure washing your fruits/vegetables/foods before cooking.
don’t eat raw/uncooked food. don’t eat them without washing them well. Never eat raw/uncooked/under-cooked food.
h. Avoid Zika affected areas: Avoid entering Zika affected areas or areas with any deadly outbreaks, unless there is no other option.
i. Safe sex: Protected sexual intercourse and limiting the number of intimate partners is suggested.

Now that you know these simple guidelines to increase the chances of a healthy baby, do share this write-up in your circle to spread more awareness!!

Written by MedPlus