Birth defects are abnormalities which occur during baby’s development in the womb. Majority of these defects are said to occur during the first 3 months of pregnancy, and may result in changes in baby’s appearance, body function or both.
Are you trying to conceive or already pregnant and wondering what you can do to minimize your risk of having a baby with birth defect(s)? Though a lot of factors contribute to the development of these defects, taking certain measures can help prevent them, thereby boosting your chances of having a healthy baby.
1. Daily intake of folic acid
Daily intake of folic acid before, during and after pregnancy is highly advised as adequate supply of this B vitamin in the body helps prevent neural tube defects (defects of the brain and spine) including anencephaly and spina bifida, oral clefts (deformed lips and/or palate), autism and congenital heart defect.
Eat folate-rich foods, including sweet potatoes, avocadoes, liver, green leafy vegetables, tomato juice, nuts, citrus foods, eggs, lean meat and poultry, legumes, seafoods, bananas, papaya, and so on, in addition to daily intake of 400 mcg of folic acid supplement before conception, and a prenatal vitamin rich in folic acid and iodine once pregnancy is confirmed.
Get your doctor’s prescription.
2. Your pre-pregnancy health
Ensuring your health is at optimal level before getting pregnant by scheduling a comprehensive test will enable your doctor spot and treat/control any condition(s), such as diabetes, that may manifest or get worse during pregnancy and increase your risk.
Also, get screened for sexually transmitted diseases. For instance, syphilis can cause bone and tooth deformities in the foetus, as well as nervous system and brain damage. Also, avoid arbitrary use of drugs, especially during pregnancy. Always talk to your doctor first.
Note that the intake of certain drugs before conception may also increase your risk. Avoid self-medication during this period as well and talk to your doctor about continuing with previously prescribed medications as their intake may not be safe during pregnancy.
In addition, ensure your diet is wholesome and balanced to maintain you and your baby’s good health. See top nutrients a pregnant woman really needs and their food sources here.
Early and regular prenatal care is also crucial to help monitor your pregnancy and spot/remedy any complication that may increase your risk.
You should also talk to your doctor about necessary vaccinations to boost your immunity and prevent infections that may cause birth defects, including toxoplasmosis. This parasitic infection, spread through raw and undercooked meat, unwashed vegetables, contact with soil during gardening, and so on, may cause malformations of the brain, liver and spleen if the foetus becomes infected in the first trimester.
In addition, maintain proper personal, home and food hygiene during pregnancy to prevent this and other infections that may put you at risk.
4. Your weight
Obesity also increases chances a newborn will have birth defects, including heart complications and spina bifida. Trying to be at the ideal weight before conception and maintaining it subsequently minimizes your risk.
5. See a genetic counsellor
Women who have a family history of birth defects or are at high risk of having babies with one owing to their medical history or age (35 or above) are advised to see a genetic counsellor or discuss with their doctor first before getting pregnant to assess their risk and review possible options or remedies.
In addition, avoid alcohol, smoking, secondhand smoke and exposure to chemicals and fumes, exercise regularly and get lots of rest.