One in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect. When women decide to have children, they obviously have their best interest at heart. No one TRIES to have a baby born with a condition. Sometimes it is simply out of their hands or a result of our genetics. Other times parents are able to prevent or may even cause our baby to be born with a birth defect.
There are many super simple things that mom can do to prevent birth defects that she may not even realize. We already have plenty to worry about so if we can do a few simple things, some we probably do already, to prevent our baby from having a birth defect we would be crazy not to.
Birth defects can vary greatly and include things such as heart defects, cleft lip, and Down Syndrome. Although Birth defects can be noticed on ultrasounds during pregnancy, they can also take a few years after birth to be diagnosed. They can be manageable, minor, or even potentially fatal. Usually the more minor ones are easier to prevent with simple things. At the same time, things we may be used to doing every single day can cause some potentially fatal birth defects for our unborn baby.
When we are growing a baby, everything around us impacts that baby’s health. The majority of moms have become pretty cautious during pregnancy because we know that everything can impact our baby’s development. We do everything in our power to ensure we have a happy, healthy baby. Whether we are aware or not, our environment can actually play a role in baby being born with a birth defect or without.
For example, being around someone with a bad habit can impact our unborn baby even though he/she isn’t directly breathing in that second hand fumes. They are still very much affected by it. We read tons of research, blogs, and lists about what we should and shouldn't do while we're pregnant, and it seems that the guidelines are ever changing.
15 Prevention: Folic Acid Even Before Getting Pregnant
One simple way to prevent possible birth defects is by taking folic acid before and during pregnancy. Many prenatal vitamins contain it, but it can be taken on its own as well. Folic acid is a type of B vitamin and can prevent birth defects with baby’s brain and skull, two pretty important body parts. According to the CDC, folic acid can prevent things like anencephaly and spina bifida. These birth defects occur in the very first few weeks of pregnancy which is why it is recommended that woman who plan to become pregnant take it before they start trying.
One potential issue is that many pregnancies are unexpected and unplanned. If we are planning a pregnancy, we should start taking folic acid right away!
For those unexpected instances though, we obviously cannot go back in time and start taking folic acid. Some women simply take it anyways just in case. Folic acid can be beneficial for more than just preventing birth defects so there is minimal reason to not take it if we think we could potentially ever have an unexpected pregnancy. Folic acid is often included in multivitamins just like prenatal vitamins. The birth defects associated with a lack of folic acid are way too serious to dismiss the necessity of folic acid during pregnancy.
14 Cause: Maternal Age
Lately it has become much more common for women over 35 and even 40 to have babies. It’s great in the sense that often times they are more financially stable and have more experience, but it can also greatly increase the risk for complications and birth defects. As stated by Marchofdimes.org, women who are of “advanced maternal age” or 35 and older, have a greater risk of birth defects, including Down Syndrome.
Our prime child bearing years are in the rear-view which means that sometimes our body just doesn’t do what it should.
Often times it is more difficult to get pregnant the older we get. It is suggested that women go in for a preconception doctor visit to try and eliminate and lessen the risks of complications and birth defects. It is often recommended for women who plan to or do conceive after 35 to have genetic testing done for their baby. These tests and screenings can alert mom if baby is at risk for specific birth defects.
Along with birth defects, advanced maternal age puts baby at an increased risk for premature birth and low birth weight. Mom is also at a heightened risk for c-section, preeclampsia, high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes.
13 Prevention: Adequate Prenatal Care
Pregnant women are at the doctor A LOT. We see a doctor more in those 40 weeks than some people do all year. As reported by Fitpregnancy.com, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests a pregnant woman see the doctor at least 8 times during her pregnancy.
Not only can this prenatal care prevent problems for baby, it can also reduce the risk of anything happening to mom.
Five of those times should be during the third trimester where most women see a doctor once a week in that trimester. If mom's pregnancy is deemed high risk or she has health complications, the amount of doctor visits become much more frequent throughout her pregnancy.
Most women see a doctor first between 8 and 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is when they learn about genetic testing, food and medication restrictions, and other important guidelines. Doctors can prescribe prenatal vitamins as well as folic acid for their patients.
They may also change already standing prescriptions to a more pregnant friendly option. Some women even opt to ween off any prescriptions in fear of complications. Blood tests and ultrasounds can detect signs of birth defects and can also prevent or possibly correct them as well. If we know better what our baby needs from us, we are able to be better mothers before baby even arrives.
12 Prevention: Caution About Extras
When we are pregnant, we need to watch EVERYTHING that we put into our bodies. Sometimes we don’t even think about the medications that we take on a regular basis. We might not even think to mention our pregnancy when we are prescribed an antibiotic for a virus. It is important though that expectant mothers are vigilant about what medications we are putting in our bodies during pregnancy. This includes over the counter medications as well as prescriptions.
We likely find ourselves checking a list or calling our doctor every time we have allergies, a cough, or a headache, but better safe than sorry right?
According to WebMD, certain anti-inflammatory medications can be linked to possible heart defects. Specifically these issues are most sensitive when the medications are taken during the first trimester when organs are still developing.
Babycenter.com also writes that it can be harmful to take such medications in the third trimester as the anti-inflammatories can cause a passage in baby's heart to close prematurely which could lead to future lung or heart issues. Due to the potential risks during multiple trimesters, many doctors recommend avoiding anti-inflammatories such as Motrin and taking Tylenol instead. If there is such a simple fix, we would be silly to avoid it.
11 Cause: Poor Maternal Health
Being either underweight or overweight can increase our chances of having a baby with a birth defect. We want to be in good health when we decide to get pregnant because it is best for us and our baby. Poor health can make pregnancy and labor more difficult. It can also cause complications and birth defects for our baby.
Health problems we have prior to pregnancy don't just go away. While we may be able to manage things like diabetes and high blood pressure prior to and during pregnancy, they can still pose potential risks to the unborn baby.
A diabetic mother is two to six times more likely to have a baby born with a birth defect according to StanfordChildrens.org. These birth defects are rather serious as they affect the brain, spine, blood vessels, heart, urinary, kidney, and digestive tracts. Another common birth defect is macrosomia or when baby is born considerably larger. Hypoglycemia and breathing issues are also common defects.
One popular health issue among pregnant moms is high blood pressure. High blood pressure during pregnancy also greatly increases the risks of baby being born with a birth defect. It can cause problems with the placenta as well as premature birth or low birth weight.
10 Prevention: Healthy Eating & Exercise
Diet and exercise are ALWAYS important. Pregnancy is no exception, and how great is it that something we should probably already be doing can lessen our risk of birth defect! Select vitamins are extra important for baby’s healthy growth and development. It is recommended that pregnant mothers eat foods that will provide such vitamins for their baby.
According to Jamanetwork.com, it is suggested that women eat fatty fish and fortified milk to get vitamin D in their diet. Vitamin D is essential in building baby’s bones and teeth. Folic acid, a form of vitamin B, is necessary in preventing neural tube defects, which impact the brain and spinal cord. Some women opt to eat dark leafy greens or select fortified cereals to get enough folic acid in their diet.
It can obviously be super hard to eat leafy greens when we are craving cupcakes, but balance is still important. Since baby eats what we eat, we should want him/her to get the essential nutrients from things like fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins and fats.
Pregnant women are very much allowed and even encouraged to continue to exercise. Avoiding anything too strenuous is important, but many women are able to keep similar routines as previously. It can help keep mom in good shape to make labor easier as well as help manage weight gain.
9 Prevention: Avoid Zika Infected Regions
Anyone who has been pregnant in recent years has probably been asked if they traveled out of the country lately. It’s a way of screening if they’ve traveled to a Zika infected region. Zika is transmitted through mosquitoes and while it is not super serious to most people, it can cause birth defects when a pregnant woman is infected.
Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid Zika infected regions. According to the CDC, areas such as South America, Cuba, and Africa have higher risks of the Zika virus. It is also suggested that our partners avoid such regions as well since the virus can be transmitted through bodily fluids and sexual intercourse.
Zika can also be transmitted if our partner has been in an infected region, and we do not use protection. If a partner travels to such region, expectant woman should use protection and extra caution. This is important to remember because when we are expecting or trying, we often skip the protection because DUH we are already pregnant!
The Zika virus can cause a pretty serious birth defect that affects the brain known as microcephaly. Babies may also have Congenital Zika Syndrome which has a variety of pretty serious birth defects that come with it. It can impact joints, the brain, the skull, and vision.
8 Cause: Exposure To Chemicals
There are chemicals all around us in things like skin care products to cleaning products. We are exposed to them through our work, our environment, and our daily life so while they are obviously unavoidable, there are some chemicals we should definitely try to steer clear of during pregnancy. Insecticides, paints, and cleaning solutions can all cause pretty serious birth defects. Many women may not be aware that they shouldn't be around the nursery as it is being painted in order to protect their unborn child.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 70 percent of birth defects have unknown causes.
Since medicine is still researching birth defects, over the years many common chemicals have been linked to birth defects. Household chemicals that many of us use everyday without a second thought have been linked to birth defects over the years including neural tube defects.
People who work in the automotive industry, printing, and nail salons are all exposed to chemicals that can be harmful to an unborn baby. Lead and mercury are also common chemicals that can cause birth defects. Mercury can be found in foods like fish and sushi. Lead can be found all over our home. It might be in pipes and paints. In pipes, it can contaminate our household water supply.
7 Prevention: Proper Handling Of Raw Meat
Pregnant or not, we need to always be careful with our food safety especially when it comes to raw meat. Toxoplasmosis is present in undercooked meats. While mom may experience flu like symptoms similar to food poisoning, her baby may have potentially much worse complications. As stated on Birthdefects.org, these babies may have eye infections, enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice, or pneumonia. Some newborns may even die as a result of mom consuming undercooked meat and toxoplasmosis.
As these children grow they can also suffer from intellectual disabilities. Cerebral Palsy and seizures can also be a result from mom consuming undercooked meat that contains toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. These are all some pretty serious and scary consequences just from eating undercooked meat. While accidents may happen, we should probably choose to forgo the cold cuts for a few months in baby's best interest.
Undercooked meat means more than just raw beef or chicken. Deli meats and hot dogs can also be contaminated possibly. It is recommended that these foods be cooked thoroughly if we would like to eat them during pregnancy. The chances of toxoplasmosis may be rather slim, which is why some women decide to ignore them, but pregnancy (and its limitations) are only temporary. Shouldn't we want to do everything possible in baby's best interest?
6 Prevention: Avoid Dirty Cat Litter
Who knew that pregnancy could be our excuse to opt out of cleaning the litter boxes for nine months? It will be someone else's problem, and we are totally okay with that. Plus who can argue when it is for baby's safety?
Toxoplasmosis can also be found in dirty cat litter. The disease is caused by a parasite that can be found in cat poop and be potentially very harmful to our unborn baby. If a pregnant woman becomes infected by toxoplasmosis, her baby can contract it through the placenta.
The birth defects caused by toxoplasmosis are pretty serious so PetMD.com suggests that pregnant women avoid changing the litter box. If that is not possible, women can wear gloves and avoid actually touching or breathing in the litter. It takes 48 hours for the Toxoplasmosis to be infectious in the cat's litter so ideally changing litter quickly can also eliminate risk of infection.
Birth defects that can happen if a pregnant woman becomes infected can be pretty serious. The infection can cause an enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice, and pneumonia. Seizures and Cerebral Palsy can also occur as a result of the infection. While most of these birth defects are manageable, they are also pretty dangerous and can even possibly be fatal in some situations.
5 Cause: Diabetes
Diabetes can be serious for anyone. It can be especially complicated when it comes to diabetes and pregnancy. There are women who are diabetic before getting pregnant as well as women who develop diabetes during pregnancy, also known as Gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes can be less harmful to mom and the unborn baby, but both pose potential risks.
According to Birthdefects.org, raised blood sugar during the first trimester of pregnancy can cause miscarriage and birth defects. As well all know, the first trimester is when most organs and systems are developing so it is a time for many potential complications.
Gestational diabetes poses to be more of a risk towards the end of pregnancy rather than the beginning. Gestational diabetes can lead to a complication known as macrosomia. Macrosomia is when a unusually large or fat for a newborn. Baby's large size can also lead to problems with delivery, especially baby's shoulders, when the large baby has to come out of us for lack of a better term.
Diabetes in mom may cause baby's pancreas to produce excess insulin as well. Not only can this pose potential breathing complications for baby at birth, it can be dangerous through baby's life. The excess insulin causes low glucose levels and puts these children at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes themselves later in life. It also increases the risks of the child becoming obese.
4 Prevention: Avoid Unpasteurized Milk
Unpasteurized milk, also referred to as raw milk, has been deemed unsafe to consume during pregnancy.
That includes drinking raw milk itself but also consuming products, most commonly cheese, made from and with unpasteurized milk. Pasteurization is the process of heating a dairy product to an incredibly high temperature to kill any microbes that may cause disease.
One common infection that can occur from consuming raw milk is called Listeriosis. Listeriosis can be incredibly harmful to pregnant women and their unborn children. Listeriosis has also been known as Listeria. As stated by AmericanPregnancy.com, the CDC states that a pregnant woman is 20 times more likely to be infected by Listeriosis. Women are usually most susceptible during the third trimester when the immune system is weaker. The infection has similar symptoms to the flu, but it can also target the nervous system which can be much more dangerous.
If mom is infected, her baby can be in some serious trouble. Two common effects of Listeria on an unborn baby are miscarriage and stillbirth. It may also cause a woman to go into premature labor which comes with its own risks for baby as well. The baby may also simply get an infection from the Listeriosis which can cause baby to be sick after delivery.
3 Prevention: Avoid The Bad Stuff
This one seems like a total no-brainer. Basically every one knows that certain substances and drinks are not great for pregnant mothers. According to Kidshealth.org, alcohol is the leading cause of preventable birth defects in the United States. That’s not only scary but also pretty sad. These problems could be prevented, and no one wants to live with the guilt of knowing something they did could potentially harm their baby.
For most women, it is not too difficult to avoid such substances for the nine months that we are pregnant. For women who struggle with addiction, it is a totally different ball game though. If mom is struggling and does them during pregnancy, it can cause baby to go through withdrawal when he/she is born.
There can also be issues though if mom goes through withdrawal while she is pregnant which can be potentially harmful to the unborn baby. Prescription medication can also have harmful side effects to an unborn baby so moms should run any medications by a doctor once they find out they are pregnant.
As a result of consuming “too much” alcohol during pregnancy, the baby may develop Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Some of the most common birth defects associated with this include seizures, heart problems, and poor growth. Drinking alcohol can also cause development delays for children as well.
2 Prevention: Get Tested
During one of the first prenatal appointments, the doctor or midwife usually tests for sexually transmitted diseases. While this may seem unnecessary for some women, it can be important for baby's health. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, some sexually transmitted diseases can be passed from mom to baby during delivery. Others can be transmitted while baby is still in the womb.
Getting tested can help doctors figure out what infection mom has, if she has one, and if and how it can be treated to prevent baby from contracting it too.
If mom has certain STDs, her doctor may recommend a C-section to avoid baby passing through and getting the infection during delivery. Some STDs can be managed with drug therapy. Almost all babies are given an eye ointment at birth that can prevent blindness if baby is infected by chlamydia or gonorrhea during delivery.
In addition to actually contracting the disease or developing an eye infection, sexually transmitted diseases can pose other risks to unborn babies as well. Low birth weight and preterm delivery can both be caused by mom having an STD. Birth defects such as bone deformities and intellectual disability can also be caused by mom having an untreated STD during pregnancy. Deafness is a common birth defect from infections. More severe issues like newborn death, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy, and miscarriage can occur as well.
1 Cause: Genetics
Our genes tell our bodies what to do during pregnancy. They are the little masterminds behind our baby's development so it is no surprise that they can also be responsible for birth defects. Our genes determine things like our height and eye color, and sometimes they change. These changes or mutations can be passed onto our children. Mutations can be the cause behind birth defects such as heart defects as well as health conditions.
Today we have genetic testing available that can screen for things like Down Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, and spinal muscular atrophy according to MarchofDimes.org. These tests can be controversial for some women when done during pregnancy. Learning about a birth defect during pregnancy can essentially ruin how a woman feels about her pregnancy and her experience. But it can also be beneficial because she can opt to deliver somewhere that has better care for her baby's specific needs. Some couples do genetic counseling before conceiving to alert them to any genetic risk factors that may cause birth defects or health complications for their potential future child.
Genetic birth defects can include a variety of heart defects. They can also include blood diseases such as sickle cell and thalassemia. Down syndrome is a birth defect caused by genetics as it is a result of a chromosome abnormality, or having an extra chromosome.
References: March of Dimes, Nicdh.nih.gov, BabyCenter, WebMD, BabyCenter, CDC.gov, Birth Defects, Healthline, CDC.gov, Kids Health, Fit Pregnancy, Jamanetwork, CDC.gov, PetMD, CDC.gov, American Pregnancy, March of Dimes, StanfordChildrens, Cleveland Clinic, and BirthDefects.org.