January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, an effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to raise awareness of different birth defects. A birth defect is a structural change a baby is born with that can affect how the body looks, works or both. This can affect almost any part of the body and can range from mild to severe.
Every 4.5 minutes, a child is born in the United States with a birth defect, which adds up to approximately 120,000 children each year — about one in every 33 babies born.
Although the CDC has not yet identified the causes of many birth defects, there are certain factors that may increase a baby’s chances of being born with one:
- Smoking, drinking alcohol or taking other drugs during pregnancy
- Taking certain medications, like isotretinoin
- Having certain medical conditions, like obesity or uncontrolled diabetes
- Having a family history of birth defects
- Being an older mother, which typically describes a woman over 34 years old
Of course, none of these factors automatically guarantee that a birth defect will be present, nor is it necessary for one of these to apply to a woman who has a baby born with a birth defect. Not all are preventable. The CDC does, however, list a few things women can do before and during their pregnancies to decrease their babies’ chances of being born with birth defects:
- Begin seeing your healthcare provider for prenatal care as soon as you think you may be pregnant.
- Take 400 mcg of folic acid every day.
- Don’t smoke, use street drugs or drink alcohol.
- Talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking or considering taking. Don’t stop taking any medication without first consulting your doctor.
- Control any medical conditions, such as obesity or diabetes, before your pregnancy if possible.