National Birth Defects Month

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Birth defects affect roughly one in 33 newborns and are a leading cause of infant death in the U.S. Birth defects can also have life-long costs. In the United States, birth defects have accounted for over 139,000 hospital stays during a single year, resulting in just about $2.6 billion in hospital costs alone.

Birth defects are defined as abnormalities of structure, function, or body metabolism that are present at the time of birth. Major birth defects are abnormalities that lead to developmental or physical disabilities or require medical or surgical treatment. There are more than 4,000 different known birth defects, minor to severe, and although many can be treated or cured, they're the primary cause of death in the first year of life.

According to the March of Dimes, about 150,000 babies are born with birth defects each year in the United States. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that 3 out of every 100 babies born in the United States have some kind of major birth defect. Birth defects can be caused by genetic, environmental, or unidentified factors. For most birth defects, the cause is believed to be an interaction of a number of genetic and environmental factors.

A large percentage of birth defects are triggered by environmental factors. The most critical of these factors are those that affect a woman's body before or during pregnancy. The woman's body forms her child's basic prenatal environment. Strategies are aimed at improving this environment. This can help reduce the effects of some types of birth defects. For example: increasing folic acid intake, commonly found in green, leafy vegetables, reduces the chance of birth defects.

Here are five other common tips to a healthy pregnancy:

  1. Eating well balanced and nutritional meals and taking a multivitamin daily.
  2. Avoid all activities that could potentially lead to birth defects including alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and caffeine.
  3. Seek an annual gynecological and wellness exam.
  4. Obtain genetic counseling and birth defect screening, particularly if you have any family history of birth defects or if you are 35 years of age or older.
  5. Help your family or friends who might be considering parenthood by informing them that January is Birth Defects Prevention Month. You can send an e-mail and link to this page to everyone in your address book.

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