Living Well

Birth Defects Prevention Month: What you need to know to keep you and your baby safe

Birth Defects Prevention Month: What you need to know to keep you and your baby safe

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month dedicated to raising awareness about simple steps and lifestyle choices you can make to reduce the chance of birth defects. While not all birth defects are preventable, planning appropriately for pregnancy can reduce risks for mom and baby.

Being in good health prior to pregnancy is equally important to maintaining good health during pregnancy, as many body parts begin to form before most expectant mothers realize they’re pregnant.

Any woman considering pregnancy should meet with their health care provider, most often an obstetrician, prior to becoming pregnant. General and specific healthcare risks can be reviewed and modified prior to pregnancy. Most woman are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily prior to pregnancy to lessen the chance of defects to the brain and spine.

Potential harmful behaviors such as alcohol, smoking or illicit drug use should be avoided. Health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, or seizure disorders should be managed optimally for mom and baby. Family history for certain genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and others should be reviewed.

Children’s Hospital New Orleans Neonatologist and Service Line Chief Dr. Brian Barkemeyer shares his expertise saying, “In general, what’s good for a mother’s health is good for a baby’s health. Healthy lifestyle choices like a balanced diet, keeping physically fit, avoiding harmful habits, and improving care for existing medical problems can improve chances both of becoming pregnant and having a health pregnancy.”

COVID-19 is an added current risk for pregnant mothers. Additional key points to consider specific to our current pandemic include:

-Following up to date guidelines to prevent COVID-19 infection including vaccination and appropriate use of masks and social distancing when necessary

-Many providers can modify healthcare visits to lessen the risk of transmission including the use of telemedicine when appropriate. Regular prenatal visits are important.

-Avoidance of high-risk environments when considering or during pregnancy

Despite optimizing care leading up to and during pregnancy, some birth defects still occur. At Children’s Hospital, doctors who are experts in maternal fetal medicine, neonatology, and other pediatric specialties meet monthly as part of Perinatal Neonatal Conference (PNC3) to discuss complex pregnancies and fetal patients.

Dr. Barkemeyer adds, “At our PNC3 conference, we assess each complex pregnancy to come up with a plan for birth and afterwards. In doing this, we can prepare parents and healthcare providers to achieve the best outcome. In some cases, intervention is necessary before or immediately after birth. Via ultrasound, MRI, and various other genetic tests, we have the ability now to know more about what needs to be done and when to intervene. When a complex baby is born, you often have one chance to get things done right to give the baby the best chance.”

Key points to reduce your risks:
-Prepare in advance for your pregnancy
-See your obstetric provider before becoming pregnant
-Eat well
-Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly
-Avoid smoking, alcohol, and other illicit drugs
-Manage your health problems appropriately
-Take advantage of measures to reduce birth defects
-Take advantage of measures that reduce infections like COVID-19 or influenza
-Get help for domestic violence
-See your obstetric provider when you know you’re pregnant