During the month of January, Preble County General Health District is joining with the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) to recognize National Birth Defects Prevention Month to increase awareness of birth defects, which are the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. In fact, every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States.
Both PCGHD and the NBDPN are actively focusing on raising awareness among healthcare professionals, educators, social service professionals, and many segments of the general public about the frequency with which birth defects occur in the United States and the steps that can be taken to prevent them. The risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices and medical care before and during pregnancy.
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 lifelong effects, which can often be lessened by early detection and treatment.
More than 120,000 babies born with a birth defect (approximately 1 in every 33 live births) are reported each year in the United States with around 4,500 cases occurring in Ohio alone. Birth defects are the most common cause of death in infants and the second most common cause of death in children aged one to four years.
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 or increasing the risk of birth defects.
Fetal development can also be affected by the father’s habits and lifestyle. On –the- job hazards of working with potentially risky chemicals and substances can cause the production of abnormal sperm which lead to miscarriage or increased risk of fathering a child with birth defects. Fathers need to make sure and wash well and change clothing when arriving home after working with hazardous products. Smoking, alcohol consumption, and some medications can all affect sperm count and fertility as well as affect his relationship with his partner.
Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant can take the following important steps to help prevent birth defects:
*Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily
*Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or phenylketonuria (PKU)
*Reach and maintain a healthy weight
*Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter
*Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs
*See a health care provider regularly
*Avoid toxic substances at work or at home
*Ensure protection against domestic violence
Know their family history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate
“Small steps like visiting a healthcare provider before pregnancy and taking a multivitamin every day can go a long way,” says the NBDPN.
Further information on this topic can be found at www.NPDPN.org.
To keep up with other health –related issues make sure to check out Preble County General Health District online at www.pcghd.net, through Facebook at www.facebook.com/PrebleCoHealth and on Twitter at @PrebleCoHealth. We are also available Monday through Friday between the hours of 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. by phone at 937-472-0087.