Best for You. Best for Baby:: 5 Tips to Prevent Birth Defects

newborn baby sleeping wearing pink angel wings

So you found out you’re pregnant! Congratulations! However it came to be, pregnancy is a magical time. You form this special connection with the growing baby inside you that nothing else will ever compare to. As I am sure you are excited, many women also become nervous, wondering if they are doing enough to protect their baby’s development and prevent birth defects. Well the good news is that there are practices you can put in place either before or during pregnancy to ensure the best chance of a healthy baby.

In January every year we observe National Birth Defects Prevention Month, so here are 5 ways to help protect your little miracle.

1. Start taking a FOLIC ACID supplement BEFORE you get pregnant.

bottle of prenatal vitamins, which can help prevent birth defects

I advise all women of child-bearing age to start taking 400-800 mcg of folic acid every day. This is usually very easy to find in a prenatal vitamin. Folic acid is essential for brain and spine development, which starts almost immediately after getting pregnant, even before you may be aware that you are with child. This is why it is important to already be on it, or at least start it as soon as possible upon finding out you are pregnant. Tip:: I find prenatal gummies to be less nauseating than pills!

2. Set up routine PRENATAL CARE.

It is important that you have a regular provider seeing you for prenatal care, whether it’s an OBGYN, a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, or a Certified Nurse Midwife. There are numerous tests that are recommended or offered throughout pregnancy, including tests for infections in your body that could harm your baby or cause birth defects, and tests to screen for genetic abnormalities such as Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Disease, Tay Sachs Disease, etc. Some tests are standard, and others are offered, and you may decide to pursue them or not depending on what the outcome means for you. Whatever you decide, you want to be under the care of a qualified, caring professional.

3. CHECK all medications, vitamins and supplements with your prenatal care provider.

You want to make sure you check with your provider on anything you are taking or considering taking. Some substances may be harmful to your developing baby and cause birth defects {some anxiety and cholesterol meds, hormone therapy or birth control, methotrexate, etc.} while others are considered relatively safe {thyroid medicine, antihistamines, antacids, etc.}. Your provider can give you guidance on what is ok for you. Some conditions may warrant continuing therapy during pregnancy; the benefit of the medication outweighs the risk to the baby. Only you and your provider can make that decision together.

4. Stay up to date with your VACCINES.

Getting a flu vaccine during pregnancy is not only safe, but can protect your growing baby as well as you. Infants under 6 months old cannot get a flu vaccine, but they may have some of the antibodies passed on from you in the womb. The flu is more likely to affect and cause a more severe illness in a pregnant woman than a non-pregnant woman, and the higher fever that oftentimes comes with the flu can cause neurological birth defects or other adverse outcomes.

It is also recommended to get a TDaP vaccine in the last 3 months of your pregnancy. The reason for this is to provide pertussis protection to your baby, who cannot start to get vaccinated until 2 months old. Pertussis, or whooping cough, can cause a very severe respiratory illness in your baby that may lead to a hospitalization or even death.

And don’t forget about your partner, family and friends! Anyone who is going to be around the new baby, especially in the first 2 months of life, needs to be up to date on their vaccines as well.

5. Maintain a HEALTHY lifestyle.

pregnant woman on a trail, smiling

“Healthy mom, healthy baby.” Your body is a living vessel creating this little miracle of life, so you have to think that what goes into your body also goes into your baby. What is going to be the best options for your health will be the best options for your baby’s health. Get your body moving, but don’t start any new exercise routines without discussing with your provider. Eat a well-rounded diet, and check with your provider if you might benefit from any supplements. Don’t drink alcohol, stop smoking and stop any other illicit drugs, which can lead to birth defects. You want to give your baby the best start in life, and that starts with a healthy YOU.

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