Birth Defects Can Be Prevented

by Guest Writer

Birth defects are changes in the structure of one or more parts of the body, explained the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia.  They affect one in every 33 babies born in the United States.

Every 4 1/2 minutes, a baby is born in the U.S. with a birth defect, which translates to almost 130,000 infants each year. A birth defect can be found before birth, at birth, or at any time after birth. However, most problems can be detected during the first year of life. Some defects, such as a cleft lip, are obvious, while others, such as heart defects or hearing, are found after an ultrasound picture of the heart, X-ray, or hearing test.

“Some defects can occur during any stage of a pregnancy,” the CDC continued, “but most are located during the first three months of gestation, when the organs of the infant are forming.  Unfortunately, some defects do not surface until the last month of a pregnancy, when the tissues and organs continue to grow and develop.”

Certain risk factors can increase the chances of having a baby with a birth defect.  Some of these are:

1.  Smoking, drinking, and using “street” drugs.

2.  Being obese  or having uncontrolled diabetes before and during the pregnancy.

3.  Taking certain medications, such as isoretinonin, which is used to treat acne.

4.  Having someone in the family with a birth defect.

` 5.  The mother being over the age of 34.

Although not all birth defects can be prevented, there are important things you can do before and during a pregnancy, the CDC said.  Prenatal care can often locate potential problems early on.

1.  Take 400 micrograms of folic acid, the B vitamin, daily, starting one month before conception.  Some

pediatricians suggest the father do the same.

2.  Don’t smoke, drink, or use street drugs.

3.  Discuss with your doctor any prescription and over-the-counter drugs or nutritional or herbal supplements you are taking.  A megadose of vitamin A is not harmful to the mother, but it can be dangerous for the fetus, whose liver is quite small.

4.  Learn how to prevent infections during the pregnancy.

5.  Be sure that medical conditions such as diabetes and obesity are under control before becoming pregnant.

To reduce the risk of neural tube defects, primarily spina bifida and anecephalus (an underdeveloped brain or skull), the Food and Drug Administration mandated that all enriched cereal products be fortified with 400 micrograms of folic acid as of January 1998, reported the Journal of Nutrition.

The addition of the B vitamin may also reduce the risk of urinary tract and cardiovascular abnormalities, limb difficulties, and cleft lip and palate. Cleft lip is an opening in the upper lip, while cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth or the soft tissues at the back of the mouth. The latter deformities can bring ear infections, hearing impairment, speech and dental problems, and trouble eating or nursing. For women who have previously delivered a baby with a birth defect, the recommendation is 4,000 micrograms of folic acid a day.  It is estimated that 50% of folate in foods is absorbed, while about 85 to 100% of the vitamin is absorbed in supplements.  Folate is in foods and folic acid is the vitamin in supplements. Currently, only 54 countries require folic acid to be added to at least one kind of flour.  This has brought a 30 to 70% decline in neural tube defects, according to Godfrey Oakley, M.D., Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Although he did not mention it, most European countries have decided not to fortify their grains for fear that too much folic acid in the diet will mask a vitamin B12 deficiency.  However, this has not proved correct in the countries that have sanctioned fortification.

“Facts About Birth Defects,: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oct. 20, 2014,’
Green, Nancy S.  “Folic Acid Supplements and Prevention of Birth Defects,” Journal of Nutrition
132(8):2356S-2360S, Aug. 1, 2002.

Zimmerman, Sarah.  “Let’s Eradicate Preventable Birth Defects,” Permalink, Aug. 29, 2011.

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