The Best Ways to Prevent Birth Defects

prevent birth defects during pregnancy

Every expectant mom hopes for a healthy baby, one who doesn’t have birth defects or other debilitating conditions. But not every mom knows that there are some things she can do to help prevent birth defects. Since January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, this is the perfect time to review the best ways to stop them from happening in the first place.

  1. Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. For at least a month before getting pregnant and during the entire pregnancy, women need to take a daily vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid in it. It will help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine. 
  1. Avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Any alcohol consumed by a pregnant woman passes to her unborn baby through the umbilical cord. Alcohol can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, and disabilities known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
  1. Don’t smoke or use illegal drugs. Smoking cigarettes during pregnancy carries significant risks to the baby, including premature birth, birth defects, and infant death. Using illegal drugs is also extremely dangerous and can lead to a range of birth defects, premature birth, and low birth weight. Women are advised to quit any of those habits before they even start trying to get pregnant.
  1. Prevent infections. Some infections contracted during pregnancy can be harmful to the fetus and cause birth defects. Expectant moms should be careful to wash their hands frequently with soap and water and stay away from people with infections.
  1. Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat. Meat that isn’t cooked enough can also cause infections. Pregnant women need to make sure to cook meat until it’s well done before eating it.
  1. Avoid unpasteurized, or raw milk, and raw milk cheese. Unpasteurized milk and certain cheeses made with it can also lead to infections like listeria, which are harmful to the fetus. Expectant moms who eat soft cheese need to check that it’s pasteurized and stay away from anything that isn’t.
  1. See a doctor regularly. Regular check-ups are crucial when you’re pregnant, so begin prenatal care as soon as you find out you’re expecting. Good health care can help prevent birth defects and other risks to the baby.
  1. Talk to your doctor about medications. Some medications can cause serious birth defects if taken during pregnancy, and the safety of others is unknown. Your best bet is to discuss all medications you were taking before you were pregnant or are thinking of taking during pregnancy with your doctor, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies.
  1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. This is always important, but never more so than when you’re expecting a baby. What you eat directly affects your unborn child.
  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity (having a body mass index of 30 or higher) during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects and carries a greater risk of complications during pregnancy. Obese women should seek help from their doctors on how to reach a healthy weight before they get pregnant.
  1. Discuss vaccines with your doctor. Most vaccines, like the flu shot, are safe during pregnancy and can prevent infections that can cause birth defects, premature birth and other risks to the baby. Talk to your doctor about which ones you should be getting while you’re pregnant.
  1. Keep diabetes under control. Pregnant women who are diabetic and aren’t treating their condition appropriately are increasing the chances of birth defects and other complications and risks during pregnancy.