January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

Clark County Health Department

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month.

The most common birth defects are heart defects, cleft lip, cleft palate, Down Syndrome and spina bifida. Sure, we know they exist, but did you know that even though some are genetic and cannot be prevented, some birth defects can be alleviated with non-substance abuse, proper diet, and timely prenatal care.

As such, it is your obstetrician and the surgeon general’s warning and advice to avoid alcohol, drugs, prescription drugs, smoking, and even large amounts of caffeine while pregnant. These are all harmful substances for an unborn baby causing problems and/or birth defects for a lifetime. Each case can obviously vary in severity. Infants can be born addicted to any of these substances. For example, smoking cigarettes and nicotine, can cause preterm labor and low birthweight. Caffeine withdrawal after delivery for the infant can cause agitation, crying, shivering, breathing, sucking problems, and possible seizures. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), where mother during pregnancy consumes alcohol, has been associated with growth delays, learning difficulties, possible varying degrees of mental retardation, and behavioral problems. These problems can be avoided if intervention begins early. If you know of someone with these problems, encourage them to get help immediately, without judgement.

Keep in mind, that something as simple as a nutritious diet can help prevent birth defects. Folic Acid is an important vitamin needed in pregnancy. Folic Acid helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Prenatal vitamins often include between 600-1000 micrograms of folic acid. It is recommended that any woman of childbearing age take a multivitamin each day of at least 400 micrograms per day. Breads and cereals are also fortified with folic acid.

Iron is an important mineral that is also needed in pregnancy. Iron carries oxygen to mom and baby. A strong iron store can lower the risk of preterm birth and low birthweight. Iron is also included in multivitamins and prenatal vitamins. Other food sources include, but are not limited to breakfast cereals, liver, lean beef, spinach, collard, mustard and turnip greens.

Even though not all birth defects can be prevented, it is important to realize that some can be alleviated altogether. It is very important for a woman to plan ahead as much as possible for future pregnancies. Be sure to stop all harmful substances, take prenatal vitamins, eat a well-balanced diet, and get prenatal care as soon as possible.

Remember, The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a program offered nationwide and funded by the United States Department of Agriculture to supplement the pregnant, breastfeeding, or postpartum woman, infant, and child, nutritious foods that include, folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin C, and high protein foods at no cost to participants. That program can be accessed and utilized at the Clark County Health Department, 859-744-4482. Also remember, due to COVID-19, the WIC program is only providing services via telephone, making it very convenient to enroll for those in need.

The Clark County Health Department provides programs for the entire family including Freedom from Smoking, WIC, HANDS, family planning, well child care/immunizations and home health care. For more information, call 744-4482 or go to www.clarkhealthdept.org.  You can also “like” us on Facebook.