Pregnancy is generally a joyous time filled with excitement and wonder. If you’re pregnant, your fears aren’t unfounded: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States, and account for 20% of all infant deaths.
Generally, a birth defect is defined as abnormal development of the fetus that results in malformation, functional disorders, or death. The vast majority of birth defects develop in the first trimester and vary from those that require little or no treatment, such as microphthalmia or isolated dextrocardia (when the heart is in the right side of the chest instead of the left, but is otherwise healthy) to life-threatening conditions such as Tay Sachs, a rare but fatal disorder that destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, or anencephaly, in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull.
You can’t eliminate all risks, but you can dramatically reduce the risk of your child being born with birth defects. Follow these seven tips and practices for a lower-risk pregnancy to prevent birth defects and put your mind at ease.
Take Your Folic Acid Supplement
If you are wondering what vitamin prevents birth defects, the answer is Folic acid. An essential B vitamin, the folic acid deficiency causes neural tube defects (NTDs). The two most common NTDs are spina bifida and anencephaly, which are related to a malformed brain and spinal cord. It is estimated that about 70 percent of NTDs can be prevented if women who are pregnant or are planning to get pregnant have adequate amounts of folates in the body. The recommended daily dose of folic acid is 400 micrograms (mcg) a day before pregnancy for about 3 months. Women need 800 mcg of folic acid once they’re pregnant.
Alcohol is a well-known teratogen responsible for a range of congenital defects in babies (birth defects). Since alcohol in your bloodstream crosses the umbilical cord, there is no known safe amount to consume during pregnancy. It’s best to avoid alcohol in all forms, such as an occasional beer or wine since it is also unknown if there is a safe period to consume it during pregnancy. Drinking excessive alcohol causes Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, which is one of the leading causes of intellectual disability in children that is preventable. You also need to be careful with non-alcoholic beer and wine, as most of them contain trace amounts of alcohol.
Avoid Tobacco and Illegal Drugs
Smoking during pregnancy comes with the dangers of preterm birth, infant death ,and birth defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate. Passive smoking also increases the risk for mother and child; therefore, avoid being around smokers. It’s ideal to quit smoking before you get pregnant, and if you already are pregnant, the earlier you quit, the better. Illegal drugs such as marijuana and others also increase the risk of birth defects, preterm birth , and low birth weight; therefore, it’s best to opt for treatment for any addictions before you decide to get pregnant.
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Ensure Proper Intake of Iodine
While iodine deficiencies are uncommon in women, during pregnancy, your body’s requirement for iodine goes up. Deficiency of iodine can lead to impaired neurocognitive development, increased risk of fetal death, and cretinism, which is a birth defect that causes stunted mental and physical growth. The recommended intake of iodine is 150 mcg every day in the form of potassium iodide before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and while lactating.
Choose natural personal care products
According to the Environmental Working Group, many chemicals in personal care products may cause birth defects. Studies have linked prenatal exposure to phthalates found in nail polish, fragrances, and other products to abnormal reproductive development in baby boys.
Hair dyes contain chemicals shown to cause birth defects in rats, so consider using natural, plant-based hair coloring such as henna, especially during the first trimester.
Avoid Toxic chemicals and environmental
In the pursuit of a healthy pregnancy and preventing birth defects, it is crucial for expectant mothers to conscientiously avoid toxic chemicals and prioritize environmental well-being. Exposure to harmful substances, found in certain household products and pollutants, can pose significant risks to fetal development. Adopting a lifestyle that steers clear of toxic chemicals, such as opting for natural cleaning products and avoiding environmental pollutants, becomes paramount. This proactive approach not only safeguards the mother’s health but also creates an optimal environment for the unborn child. By embracing these practices, mothers contribute to a safer, toxin-free atmosphere that enhances the prospects of a healthy pregnancy and reduces the likelihood of birth defects.
Plan and Lead a Healthy Lifestyle
Supplements for a healthy baby
In general, when you’re pregnant, it makes sense to be cautious with the use of herbs and supplements. But these four choices-in addition to folate and iodine, if necessary-are safe during pregnancy and can improve baby’s health, even before birth:
Omega-3 fatty acids: are critical for neurological and early visual development of the baby, and may also prevent preterm labor and delivery, lower the risk of preeclampsia, and increase birth weight.
Probiotics: studies show they’re safe during pregnancy, and help babies culture thewn beneficial gut bacteria when they pass through the birth canal. This initial “dose” of probiotics can help prevent ear and other infections, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases, and other illnesses.
Multivitamins: because developmental phases of pregnancy are so critical, nutrient deficiencies can have lasting consequences. Choose one that’s specially formulated for pregnancy and includes folate, as well as iron and iodine, if needed.
Vitamin D: some studies suggest it may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, and it’s also critical for fetal bone and hormone development.