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Every 4 and a Half Minutes a Baby in the U.S. is Born with a Birth Defect

January 30, 2020

Birth defects are common—they affect one in 33 babies born in the U.S. every year. That’s about 120,000 babies diagnosed with a birth defect before their first birthday. Birth defects are mild or severe structural changes that can affect almost any part of a baby. The health of a baby with a birth defect depends mostly on which organ or body part is involved and how much it’s affected.

Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of genes, behaviors and things in the environment. For some birth defects, we know the cause. But for most, we don't.

What we do know is that most birth defects happen in the first three months of pregnancy when a baby’s organs are forming. A smaller number of defects happen in the last six months of pregnancy when tissues and organs are growing and developing. Heart defects are the most common; other birth defects include spina bifida, cleft palate, clubfoot and congenital dislocated hip. A metabolic birth defect is a problem with a baby's body chemistry.

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and a reminder that while some birth defects can’t be prevented, you can increase your chances of having a healthy baby: take care of yourself before and during pregnancy.

Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is important because it helps prevent some of the major birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine. Take a vitamin that has folic acid every day at least one month before becoming pregnant, and continue during pregnancy. Check the label for “100%” of the daily value (DV): 400 mcg. And eat foods that have folic acid: certain breads, breakfast cereals and corn masa flour. Check the nutrient facts label of each product for “100%” DV of folic acid.

Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight. Obesity increases the chances for several serious birth defects and pregnancy complications. Talk with your health care provider about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight before you get pregnant.

See your health care provider before stopping or starting any medicine. Many women need to take medicine to stay healthy during pregnancy. If you are planning to become pregnant, talk to your health care provider about the medicines you’re taking.

Get up to date with all vaccines. Vaccines help protect you and your baby against diseases. You can get the flu shot before or during each pregnancy, and the whooping cough vaccine in the last three months of each pregnancy.

Quit the habits that aren’t healthy for you, your pregnancy and your baby.

  • Alcohol: there is no safe amount of alcohol when you’re trying to get pregnant and during pregnancy.
  • Tobacco: You know that smoking causes cancer, heart disease and other major health problems, but smoking while pregnant can also hurt your baby and can cause birth defects.
  • Drugs: Using drugs while pregnant can hurt your baby. If you can’t stop using, talk to your health care provider about counseling, treatment and other support services.


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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