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National Birth Defects Prevention Month: 5 tips for preventing birth defects

National Birth Defects Prevention Month: 5 tips for preventing birth defects

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are 5 easy steps you can take to help prevent birth defects. 

1. Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight.

Obesity increases the risk for several serious birth defects and other pregnancy complications. If you are underweight, overweight, or have obesity, talk with your healthcare provider about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight before you get pregnant. Focus on a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity.

2. Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.

Folic acid is important because it can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine. If you plan to or could become pregnant, you should consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day to ensure your baby’s proper development and growth. In addition to eating foods with folate from a varied diet, you can get folic acid from

  • Taking a vitamin that has folic acid in it;

    • Most vitamins sold in the United States have the recommended daily amount of folic acid (400 mcg) that you need.

    • Vitamins can be found at most local pharmacy, grocery, or discount stores. Check the label on the bottle to be sure it contains 100% of the daily value of folic acid, which is 400 mcg.

  • Eating fortified foods;

    • You can find folic acid in some breads, breakfast cereals, and corn masa flour.

    • Be sure to check the nutrient facts label and look for a product that has “100%” next to folate.

  • Getting a combination of the two: taking a vitamin that has folic acid in it and eating fortified foods.

3. Book a visit with your healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medicine.

Many women need to take medicine to stay healthy during pregnancy. If you are planning to become pregnant, discuss your current medicines with a healthcare provider, such as your doctor or pharmacist. Creating a treatment plan for your health condition before you are pregnant can help keep you and your developing baby healthy.

4. Become up-to-date with all vaccines, including the flu shot.

Vaccines help protect you and your developing baby against serious diseases. Get a flu shot annually and a whooping cough vaccine (also called Tdap) during each pregnancy to help protect yourself and your baby.

  • Flu: You can get the flu shot before or during each pregnancy.

  • Whooping Cough: You can get the whooping cough vaccine in the last three months of each pregnancy.

5. Boost your health by avoiding substances that are harmful during pregnancy.

Alcohol: There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, so it’s important to stop drinking alcohol when you start trying to get pregnant and during your pregnancy.

Tobacco: Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and other major health problems. Smoking during pregnancy can also harm the developing baby and can cause certain birth defects. Quitting smoking will help you feel better and provide a healthier environment for your baby.

Other Drugs: Using certain drugs during pregnancy can cause health problems for a woman and her developing baby. A healthcare provider can help you with counseling, treatment, and other support services.