Preventing Birth Defects; What You Can Control

Did you know women have a 3% risk of having a baby with a birth defect?


Birth defects are structural changes that can affect almost any part of a baby and may be found prior to birth or as an infant. Not all birth defects can be prevented; but, there are things a woman can do to help prevent her chance of having a baby affected by one of these structural changes.

1. Live a healthy lifestyle

Staying active and maintaining a healthy weight (BMI <30) can decrease the risk of birth defects. Having a healthy diet and lifestyle prior to conception increases your chances of a healthy pregnancy and birth. When a women is of childbearing age and pregnancy is a possibility, she should see her healthcare provider for yearly health check-ups and routine exams. Vitamin supplements are often recommended to help support the woman’s health and the cell growth of a fetus. Women should get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily.

2. Avoid harmful habits

Avoidance of alcohol, smoking and drugs can also prevent birth defects. It is important for women to talk to their healthcare provider about any medications or supplements they are taking to ensure those medications are safe with pregnancy.

3. Manage any pre-existing conditions

Particular medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, should also be kept under good control prior to conception and throughout pregnancy. Daily activity, healthy eating, and adherence to prescribed medication can help keep your pre-existing conditions under control. Consider signing up for a prenatal yoga class or simply walking daily with a friend or partner. As with any activity make sure you listen to your body and keep your doctor abreast of any changes you may be experiencing.

4. Update your vaccinations

Women should also ensure they are up-to-date with vaccinations as some illnesses are associated with an increased risk. If you find your vaccines are not up-to-date, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider to determine which vaccines are safe to receive during your pregnancy.

5. Establish prenatal care

As soon as woman becomes pregnant it is important to establish prenatal care. Your healthcare provider will arrange for blood tests that may help identify chromosomal disorders associated with birth defects. Regular prenatal care is important to help identify any problems with the pregnancy.

Though not all birth defects can be prevented, these suggestions will help reduce risk as well as increase the detection and early identification of birth defects during pregnancy. Knowing what your baby may face as he/she enters the world can help you prepare to deliver at a facility equipped to meet baby’s needs immediately after birth. This planning is equally important. A great start for baby begins with a healthy you.

Emma Rodgers, DO, is a Obstetrics & Gynecology Specialist in Petoskey, MI. She is affiliated with McLaren Northern Michigan.