Friday, January 4, 2019

Learn the facts about birth defects

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, an effort to raise awareness of birth defects, their causes and their impact. March 3 is recognized as World Birth Defects Day. This year’s theme is “Best for You. Best for Baby.”

About 1 in every 33 babies born every year in the United States is affected by a birth defect, or about 120,000 babies each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part or system of the body, such as the heart, brain or limbs. Birth defects may affect the way a body part looks, works or both and can vary from mild to severe.

Birth defects are usually detected within a baby’s first year of life and may be easily visible, such as a cleft lip, or found during testing, such as a heart defect. Some may be treatable, such as surgery for cleft palate, and some may be fatal, such as anencephaly.


A baby can develop a birth defect during any stage of pregnancy, though most occur within the first three months, a very important stage of development. Other birth defects may occur later in the mother’s pregnancy while tissues and organs continue to develop.

The cause of most birth defects is unknown. Some factors that may play a role in birth defects include genetics, behaviors and environmental factors. The CDC lists these factors among contributors to birth defects:
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol or taking certain illicit drugs during pregnancy
  • Certain medical conditions, such as obesity or uncontrolled diabetes before and during pregnancy
  • Certain medications, such as isotretinoin, used in the treatment of severe acne
  • Family history of a birth defect
  • Being an older mother, typically over the age of 34


Not all birth defects are preventable. Some things a woman can do before and during pregnancy to lower the risk of having a child with a birth defect include:
  • Prenatal care as soon a woman knows she is pregnant and regular healthcare checkups throughout the pregnancy
  • Taking 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day, beginning at least one month before getting pregnant
  • Avoiding alcohol, smoking and illicit drug use
  • Talking with a healthcare provider about the medications she is taking or thinking of taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and dietary or herbal supplements
  • Taking steps to prevent infections during pregnancy
  • Keeping any medical conditions, such as diabetes, under control before becoming pregnant
  • Eating a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean proteins
  • Maintaining a safe level of physical activity

Resources in Louisiana

The Louisiana Birth Defects Monitoring Network, part of the Louisiana Department of Health’s Bureau of Family Health, works to prevent birth defects and birth defect-related disabilities within the state, as well as providing support, services and resources. Visit for more information.

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