January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and a great time to learn how we can prevent or prepare for birth defects. According to the CDC, birth defects occur in roughly 1 in 33 infants born in the United States each year. Not all birth defects can be prevented, however, there are steps a woman can take to reduce the risk of having a baby born with a birth defect. There are two big ways a mom can reduce her risk:
One way to reduce the potential of having a baby with a birth defect is to take folic acid, an essential vitamin that helps our bodies to work properly. When taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid helps the neural tube develop properly and helps to prevent defects to the baby’s brain and spinal cord such as spina bifida. We recommend all women of reproductive age to take 400 mcg of folic acid each day whether she is planning to become pregnant or not, because birth defects occur within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. This will help build up the levels of the vitamin in your body, giving the most protection to your future baby. If you are planning to get pregnant begin taking folic acid at least 3 months before becoming pregnant.
Worried that you won’t enough folic acid? By eating a healthy diet, you should be able to get most of your daily recommended amounts. You can eat fortified foods that have added folic acid like breads, breakfast cereals, and even corn masa flour. Just check the label on your favorite foods and make sure it has 100% next to folate. Additionally, there are small amounts of folate in foods such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, and leafy greens like cabbage, kale and spinach. Most women get more than 400 mcg every day just by eating healthy! If you’re still unsure, most vitamins sold in the United States have the recommended amount that women need. Just check the label on the bottle to be sure it contains 100% of the daily value.
With these tests you will gain powerful information that will enable you and your doctor to make better health care decisions or manage unexpected conditions. The current recommendations are:
- A blood test to determine common conditions that you might carry on your chromosomes that you might pass it to baby. You can take this one-time test any time, even before pregnancy.
- A fetal test through the mom’s blood, which finds the most common issues that occur in the baby like down syndrome.
- Testing for neural tube defects such as spina bifida and others.
We recommend these tests, but you get to decide. It is always a great idea to talk to your provider before becoming pregnant. We want you to be informed for the best chance of healthy mom and baby.
Sources: Center for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health
By: Dr. Nancy Pranger, Director of Women’s Health