Birth defects are a leading cause of death in the first year of life, and babies who survive may be physically or mentally disabled.
Every year, about 8 million babies worldwide are born with a serious birth defect, and about 3 million of them will die before their fifth birthday.
Common examples of birth defects include Cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, Seizures, Congenital heart defects, Cleft lip, Spina bifida, Hydrocephalus, etc.
They may be caused by asphyxia, alcohol, smoking, drugs, and genetics.
However, many birth defects can be prevented by taking appropriate measures before and during pregnancy.
Hence, the purpose of the annual World Birth Defects Day is to raise awareness of this global problem and advocate for more surveillance, prevention, care, and research.
Therefore, to mark this year’s birth defects day, I’ll be sharing with you 5 ways to reduce the occurrence of birth defects.
How to Prevent Birth Defects
Not all birth defects can be prevented. Some are genetically induced.
However, the following 5 tips can help to reduce the incidence of birth defects.
Every woman of child-bearing age should be aware of these.
#1. Be as healthy as possible before and during pregnancy
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of giving birth to a child with a birth defect is to be healthy before and during pregnancy.
To achieve this, treat any illness you may have before conceiving. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or hypertension, ensure that it is well managed before you get pregnant and well controlled during pregnancy.
Also, eat healthy diets and exercise regularly.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which prenatal supplement you should take. Pregnacare® is an example of a supplement that can be taken during pregnancy.
If you do these, your body system will be better prepared to nourish, nurture, protect, and preserve your unborn baby in the best physiological conditions.
#2. Take 0.4mg of folic acid daily throughout pregnancy.
Someone once said that “folic acid is a pregnancy superhero”. And that is absolutely true.
Because folic acid plays an important role in the development of the brain and spinal cord of the fetus.
Therefore, if a woman has sufficient amount of folic acid in her body, the risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects of the spine (spina bifida) and the brain will be reduced.
So, it’s recommended that a pregnant woman should take 0.4mg of folic acid throughout her pregnancy.
It’s better to start taking folic acid at least one month before getting pregnant. In fact, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women of child-bearing age should take folic acid daily.
You can get folic acid from dietary supplements, beans, peas and dark-green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.
#3. Visit your healthcare provider regularly.
Attend your ante-natal appointments with your doctor. Do your best not to miss them.
Anytime you feel ill, go to your doctor. Avoid self-medication. And don’t take any medicine during pregnancy unless it’s recommended by your doctor or pharmacist.
#4. Avoid alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking during pregnancy.
If you drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes, you must completely avoid them during pregnancy. Alcohol and smoking put the life of both the mother and fetus at risk.
Consuming alcohol during pregnancy, will put your baby at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome — the baby could have abnormal facial appearance, small head size, learning disability, hearing and vision impairment.
It’s even more beneficial to quit smoking and alcohol before getting pregnant.
#5. Wait at least 18 months before your next pregnancy
Why should you wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again?
- A short interval between your last pregnancy and the next one can increase the risk for giving birth to premature babies. And premature babies have a high risk of having birth defects.
- Waiting at least 18 months before getting pregnant again will give your body enough time to recover from your last pregnancy and get prepared for your next pregnancy. This way, you can have a healthy pregnancy experience and a healthy baby.
So that’s it. 5 simple ways to reduce the risk of birth defects.
So, on this World Birth Defects Day, do your part to create some awareness. You could do that by sharing this article.