7 Ways To Avoid Birth Defects Before and During Pregnancy
Birth defects or congenital disorders are structural or functional abnormalities, including metabolic disorders present from birth. It occurs in 61 to 69.99/ 1000 live births in India, and some of the most common include neural tube defects (NTDs), congenital heart defects, Down syndrome and more. There are several factors leading to birth defects, with environmental factors being 10-25 per cent of the cause, 20 per cent being genetic, and 70 being unknown. To learn more about ways to avoid birth defects before and during pregnancy, continue reading the article.
How to Prevent Birth Defects?
Here are some of the ways to prevent birth defects while pregnant:
1. Take Your Folic Acid Supplement
If you are wondering what vitamin prevents birth defects, the answer is Folic acid. An essential B vitamin, the deficiency of folic acid causes neural tube defects (NTDs). The two most common NTDs are spina bifida and anencephaly, which are related to a malformed brain and spinal cord. It is estimated that about 70 per cent of NTDs can be prevented if women who are pregnant or are planning to get pregnant have adequate amounts of folates in the body. The recommended daily dose of folic acid is 400 micrograms (mcg) a day before pregnancy for about 3 months. Women need 800 mcg of folic acid once they’re pregnant.
2. Quit Alcohol
Alcohol is a well-known teratogen responsible for a range of congenital defects in babies. Since alcohol in your bloodstream crosses the umbilical cord, there is no known safe amount to consume during pregnancy. It’s best to avoid alcohol in all forms, such as an occasional beer or wine, since it is also unknown if there is a safe period to consume it during pregnancy. Drinking excessive alcohol causes Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, which is one of the leading causes of intellectual disability in children that is preventable. You also need to be careful with non-alcoholic beer and wine, as most of them contain trace amounts of alcohol.
3. Avoid Tobacco and Illegal Drugs
Smoking during pregnancy comes with the dangers of preterm birth, infant death and birth defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate. Passive smoking also increases the risk for mother and child; therefore, avoid being around smokers. It’s ideal to quit smoking before you get pregnant, and if you already are pregnant, the earlier you quit, the better. Illegal drugs such as marijuana and others also increase the risk of birth defects, preterm birth and low birth weight; therefore, it’s best to opt for treatment for any addictions before you decide to get pregnant.
4. Ensure Proper Intake of Iodine
While iodine deficiencies are uncommon in women, during pregnancy, your body’s requirement for iodine goes up. Deficiency of iodine can lead to impaired neurocognitive development, increased risk of foetal death and cretinism, which is a birth defect that causes stunted mental and physical growth. The recommended intake of iodine is 150 mcg every day in the form of potassium iodide before pregnancy, during pregnancy and while lactating.
5. Avoid Pollutants and Chemicals
There are a number of chemicals and environmental toxins that can cross through the placenta and get into your baby’s system. Some of the most common toxins come from solvents in paints, thinners, petrol, lead-based paints, household cleaning agents and even some personal care products such as fragrances, nail polish and hair colour. Reduce your usage of such products before and during pregnancy so you can minimise the risk of exposure. Switch to natural personal care products and household cleaners that use safer, natural ingredients.
6. Talk to Your Doctor About Medications
Talk to your doctor about any medications you might be on before you get pregnant. Certain medications, such as antibiotics, blood thinners, thyroid and cancer medications, acne medication lithium, antidepressants etc., can cause serious birth defects if you continue taking them during pregnancy. Then there are medications, the effects of which are unknown on the fetus. Therefore, if you are planning a pregnancy, talk to your doctor about the safety and the option to switch to safer ones. You will also need to talk to your doctor about vaccinations such as the flu shot and the Tdap vaccine recommended during pregnancy. Some of the vaccines protect you from infections that might otherwise cause congenital disabilities in your baby.
7. Plan Ahead and Lead a Healthy Lifestyle
When you decide to get pregnant, it’s essential that you plan long-term and start living a healthy lifestyle in terms of nutrition, exercise, and cutting out bad habits. Ensure you eat nutritious food so your body has plenty of stores of all the essential nutrients before you get pregnant. Strive to reach a healthy body weight; a body mass index of 30 or higher puts you at risk for pregnancy complications. Therefore set a realistic goal for weight loss by working with your doctor before getting pregnant. Diabetes control is a critical factor that is often overlooked. Not only can it cause complications for you, but also for your baby.
This brings us to the final question; can birth defects be prevented? The answer is Yes and No. When you choose to avoid known risk factors of birth defects, you reduce the chances of birth defects but do not eliminate them completely.
1. 5 Ways to Lower the Risk of Having a Pregnancy Affected by a Neural Tube Defect; CDC; https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/5-ways-to-lower-the-risk.html
2. 5 Tips to Reduce the Risk of Birth Defects; healthychildren.org; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/prenatal/Pages/Reduce-the-Risk-of-Birth-Defects.aspx
3. Commit to Healthy Choices to Help Prevent Birth Defects; CDC; https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/prevention.html
4. Preventing Birth Defects; S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control; https://scdhec.gov/health/family-planning/pregnancy/preventing-birth-defects
5. Lobo. I.; Birth Defects: Prevention and Treatment; Nature Education 1(1):19; https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/birth-defects-prevention-and-treatment-859/; 2008
6. Motter. C; 5 ways to reduce the risk birth defects; Akron Children’s Hospital; https://www.akronchildrens.org/inside/2022/01/03/join-akron-childrens-to-prevent-birth-defects-and-their-impact-on-families/; January 2022
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