Pregnant woman doctor maternal health community

Best For You, Best For Baby: Five Tips for Preventing Birth Defects

Jan 13, 2020 | Michelle Shapiro

Expectant parents receive a barrage of messages on how to keep their babies safe and healthy during pregnancy. For birth defect prevention, the message is simple: What’s best for you is best for your baby.

While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are concrete steps pregnant individuals can take to increase their chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.

In honor of National Birth Defects Prevention Month in January, the National Birth Defects Prevention Network released materials and resources to assist public health departments and others interested in raising awareness.

Follow #Best4YouBest4Baby throughout the month of January to keep up with the latest activity, and see a summary of the prevention recommendations below:

  1. Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is very important because it can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.
  2. Book a visit with your healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medicine. There are often benefits to continuing treatment throughout pregnancy. Discussing a treatment plan before a pregnancy allows a woman and her health care provider to weigh the pros and cons of all options to keep mom and baby as healthy as possible.
  3. Become up-to-date with all vaccines, including the flu shot. Having the right vaccinations, like the flu and Tdap vaccines, at the right time during pregnancy can help keep a woman and her baby healthy.
  4. Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight. Obesity increases the risk for several serious birth defects and other pregnancy complications.
  5. Boost your health by avoiding harmful substances during pregnancy, such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy and its exposure can cause major birth defects. Smoking during pregnancy can cause dangerous chemicals to damage the placenta and/or reach baby’s bloodstream. The opioid addiction epidemic has led to a sharp increase in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), premature birth and drug withdrawal in developing babies.

NACCHO recognizes the important role that local health departments serve in birth defects prevention, so we have implemented a new project called Bridging Preparedness, Infectious Disease, Maternal-Child Health and Birth Defects within Cities and Counties. With support from CDC’s Division of Birth Defects and Infant Disorders, the project aims to increase local jurisdictions’ ability to respond to emerging threats and to protect and support pregnant women, infants and children.

To facilitate the coordination and planning of these efforts, NACCHO will convene the Maternal-Child, Infectious Disease, Preparedness (MIP) Collaborative Workgroup. This group will serve as an interdisciplinary forum to discuss the persistent and emerging issues in the field and explore the variations, gaps, and promising practices among preparedness, infectious disease, maternal-child health, and birth defects programs.

If you are interested in joining the MIP Collaborative Workgroup, please contact Kimberly Scott ([email protected]) or Emily Yox ([email protected]) with a brief description of your experience and the issue(s) that you are interested in addressing on the workgroup.


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About Michelle Shapiro

Michelle Shapiro was formerly a communication specialist for the Environmental Health & Disability team at NACCHO.

More posts by Michelle Shapiro

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