13 Guidelines on Avoiding Birth Defects

Birth defects are defined as complications, which occur in a baby while it develops in the womb. Major percentage of birth defects occurs during the initial three months of pregnancy. The appearance or functioning of the body or both of a baby may change due to a birth defect. Around 5% of babies have birth defects naturally that happen regardless of pregnancy conditions. However, birth defects can occur due to numerous causes such as chemical exposure, infections and alcohol and drug abuse. You can take various steps to prevent the occurrence of birth defects.

How to Avoid Birth Defects During Pregnancy

1. Get an Average of 400 Micrograms of Folic Acid Daily

If you start taking folic acid a month before you get pregnant, you can prevent the risk of birth defects in brain and spine (anencephaly and spina bifida), collectively called neural tube defects or NTD. You can take folic acid supplements or eat foods rich in folic acid. Females who have a history of neural tube defect in a previous baby, should consult their physicians beforehand, if they are planning to get pregnant again. They would require 4,000 mcg (10 times more than normal) of folic acid daily to prevent recurrence of NTD.

2. Visit Your Physician Regularly

If you are planning to get pregnant, you should visit your physician before conception to get necessary advice for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Pregnancy is the most wonderful experience of a female’s life; however, it’s also the most stressful. Hence, to stay calm and be healthy before the start of pregnancy, during pregnancy and after delivery, you should be in touch with your physician regularly.

3. Keep Your Diabetes in Control

Diabetes is a disease, which may affect the health of both the mother and the child. If you have poorly controlled diabetes, you not only increase the risk of birth defects in your baby but also increase the risk of pregnancy complications. How to avoid birth defects during pregnancy? Keep your diabetes in control.

4. Maintain an Optimum Weight

Obese females (with BMI 30 or more) have higher chances of developing complications during pregnancy and having birth defects in their babies. Hence, if you are overweight and plan to conceive, consult your physician and try to reach an optimum weight before getting pregnant. Losing weight during pregnancy is not recommended as it is not good for the health of both you and your baby.

5. Discuss with Your Physician About Vaccinations

Vaccines help by protecting you and your infant from certain diseases. Some vaccines including mumps, measles, rubella (MMR) vaccine is given one month or more before you conceive. The Tdap vaccine (which is given to protect from whooping cough) is given during pregnancy. Other vaccines such as the flu shot may be given during or before pregnancy depending on the fact whether it is the flu season when you are pregnant or not.

6. Discuss with Your Physician Before Taking Any Medicine

Certain medicines may result in serious birth defects in your baby. Hence, you should not take any medicine, herbal products, dietary products, OTC medicines and supplements etc. before consulting your physician. How to avoid birth defects during pregnancy? Do not take any medicines before consulting your physician.

7. Prevent the Occurrence of Infections

Certain infections if happen during pregnancy may cause birth defects in your baby. You can take simple steps to avoid getting infections, including avoiding contact with infected individuals, cooking your meat well before consuming and washing your hands frequently. You should also keep your immunizations updated before getting pregnant. You should maintain proper personal hygiene to prevent the occurrence of infections.

8. Avoid Street Drugs, Tobacco and Alcohol

Smoking can results in serious birth defects (cleft lip or cleft palate), infant death and premature birth. Even second hand smoke is harmful to a pregnant female and her unborn fetus. Similarly a female who uses street drugs such as cocaine and marijuana may give birth to a baby with low birth weight, birth defects, other health problems and premature birth. Hence, you should quit smoking if you are planning to get pregnant.

Similar to tobacco, alcohol is also harmful to development of fetus. FAS or fetal alcohol syndrome is an avoidable cause of mental retardation in the USA. A child born with FAS has permanent problems with behavior. If a pregnant female drinks alcohol, it reaches the fetus through the placenta. There is no safe amount of alcohol for a pregnant female. The baby may suffer from FASD or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. How to avoid birth defects during pregnancy? Not drinking alcohol during pregnancy is the only solution to prevent birth defects in the baby.

9. Do Regular Exercise and Also Get Lots of Rest

You should get regular physical activity to improve your posture. Some safe exercises that you can do during pregnancy are swimming, walking and bicycling. However, you should discuss with your physician before beginning any new exercise.

You should lie on your left side, as this increases circulation of blood to your baby. You should sleep for at least eight hours in a day and rest whenever you feel tired or weak.

10. Stay Hydrated

Drink at least six to eight glasses of fluids (water, fruit juice or milk) every day to stay hydrated. Light yellow or clear colored urine suggests that you are appropriately hydrated.

11. Maintain Your Mental Health

Avoid being stressed. Stress impacts the health of your developing fetus. Do meditation, breathing exercises, pregnancy yoga, etc. to reduce stress.

12. Eat a Well-Balanced and Healthy Diet

  • A well-balanced diet includes the following: five portions of vegetables and fruits per day, two to three portion of dairy products (low-fat) per day, foods rich in protein each day and two portions of fish per week.
  • Certain specific foods may have toxic substances such as mercury, listeria, salmonella, E. coli and shigella that are dangerous to the mother and her baby and should not be consumed before and during pregnancy.
  • Avoid consuming fish including shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish because high amount of mercury may be present in them, which may cause vision and hearing problem and brain damage in the fetus.
  • Do not consume shellfish or raw fish during pregnancy. Do not eat sashimi and sushi, clams, scallops and oysters.
  • Food poisoning is also very harmful to the fetus. Ensure that the meat, eggs and poultry is cooked fully. Avoid hotdogs, luncheon meats and foods, which have partially cooked or raw eggs (eggnog, hollandaise sauce and Caesar salad dressing).

13. Genetic Counseling

Couples who have a family history of birth defects or other risk factors for having a defect can consult a genetic counselor. A counselor can be of help when you are planning to conceive or already pregnant. They can find out the likelihood with which your baby may be born with birth defects by evaluating medical records and family history. They may also ask to do tests for analysis of genes of father, mother and baby.