Can We Prevent Birth Defects?
When a couple first starts planning for pregnancy, they often wonder what can be done to prevent birth defects. While not every major birth defect can be avoided, there are many things that a woman can do to maximize her chances for a healthy pregnancy and baby.
• Smoking – Stop smoking before trying to get pregnant, or at the very least, as soon as possible after finding out that you are pregnant. Smoking during pregnancy has been linked with low birth weight, cleft lip or palate, and even fetal death.
• Alcohol – Chronic drinking during pregnancy causes a collection of birth defects called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Babies born with FAS tend to have abnormal facial features and a smaller stature, and issues with behavior, memory, coordination and hyperactivity. There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy.
• Street Drugs – These should be completely avoided due to the risk of birth defects, especially to the heart or kidneys, arms and legs. All street drugs have been linked with fetal abnormalities.
• Medications – Many over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause miscarriage or birth defects. Speak with your doctor about all medications that you take – prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal supplements – and don’t take anything new without asking the doctor first.
• Folic Acid – Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid each day (it should be a part of your prenatal vitamin) has been shown to reduce the baby’s risk for developing neural tube defects like spina bifida. You should start taking this at least three months before trying to get pregnant. Ask your doctor for a prescription, or check that your over-the-counter prenatal vitamin has that minimum amount of folic acid.