January is Birth Defects Prevention Month, and there’s no better time to learn more about the conditions that could affect your baby. Even if you have no family history of birth defects, you could still be at risk: 1 in 33 babies are born with birth defects every year, and are responsible for 1 in 5 infant deaths.
Some birth defects are mild, such as an additional finger or toe, but others can be very serious or even fatal; such as heart defects or spina bifida. Not all types of defects are evident at birth, and some aren’t even detected until after the baby has left the hospital. Though some defects, such as Down syndrome, are caused by genetic factors, many have preventable causes. Here are a few simple ways to lower your baby’s risk of a birth defect:
1. Don’t drink, smoke, or take drugs while pregnant. It seems obvious, but many conditions, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), are 100% preventable as long as the mother does not drink while pregnant.
2. Talk to your doctor about any medicines you are taking. Some prescription medications could potentially have a harmful effect on your baby, so make sure to tell your doctor as soon as possible. He might switch you to a safer medicine, lessen your dose, or have you stop taking it.
3. Limit your exposure to chemicals. Now, this may seem silly—it’s not like you walk by vats of nuclear waste every day. But even everyday products, like cleaning liquids, can contain harmful chemicals. Try switching to an organic or plant-based cleaner. You may also have to put some of your hobbies on hold—certain kinds of paint, paint thinner, and glue can also contain harmful ingredients.
4. Get tested regularly for infections, and keep up with your vaccinations. When you are exposed to infectious diseases, so is your baby. Any sickness you have could be passed to the baby, who is less able to fight it off.
5. Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day, even if you’re not pregnant. All women who might become pregnant should take folic acid daily. A type of B-vitamin, folic acid can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine.
6. Wash your hands! It’s a little thing that makes a big difference. Every time you are exposed to germs or infections, from handling raw meat to playing with animals, make sure to wash your hands. A healthier you leads to a healthier baby!