Birth defects prevention

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Delivering Better Baby Health

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, an effort to help families plan healthy pregnancies and have healthy babies. 

An estimated one of every 33 U.S. infants is born with a birth defect. While there are few guarantees in life, some behaviors will boost the likelihood of having a healthy baby. 

A few things to consider include:

Avoiding Harmful Substances

It almost goes without saying, but it’s always worth a mention. Avoid substances like alcohol, tobacco, or other illicit drugs when trying to conceive and during pregnancy. 

Alcohol can cause a number of problems, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), which can affect a child in many ways, including:

  • Appearance
  • Size
  • Behavior
  • Memory
  • Vision
  • Speech development

Experts caution that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

Dangers of Smoking

Smoking is linked to a number of problems, too, including cancers, heart, and lung diseases. Tobacco use may lead to lower birth weight, or cause the baby to be born prematurely. It can also affect the baby’s lungs and brain as they develop. Hearing and eyesight may be affected, and there may be developmental delays.

Drug use is risky, too, raising the likelihood of intellectual or developmental disability, behavioral problems, miscarriage, or stillbirth.

Healthy Weight

Being at a healthy weight — not too much nor too little — reduces the risk of birth defects and other complications. 

Out-of-control blood sugar affects a developing fetus, too, whether the mother already had type 1 or type 2 diabetes or developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

A balanced diet and physical activity can do wonders for the health of the mother and of the child. 


Folic acid — 400 micrograms a day should do it — can help prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain and spine. A daily vitamin would work, but so would eating certain breads, breakfast cereals, and corn masa flour. Be sure to read the labels to ensure you’re getting the amount you and your baby need. 

Keep That Appointment

Regular checkups with your doctor are always a good idea, especially if you have a health condition that requires a bit of medical oversight. If you’re taking medications, let your doctor and pharmacist know so your health and your baby’s health remain intact. That includes over-the-counter medicines and supplements.


It’s not just what a pregnant woman may ingest that could put a developing baby at risk, but also other things in the environment. Cancer treatments with high levels of radiation pose one danger. Living or working near a hazardous waste site is far from ideal for a developing fetus. Using or breathing in chemicals like PCBs or pesticides have been linked to birth defects, too.  It may be hard to avoid every risk, but the more cautions taken, all the better for both mother and baby.


Some infections raise the chances of birth defects in a fetus. They can include virsuses and parasites. Common concerns include Rubella (German measles), Cytomegalovirus (CMV), or Zika. All three viruses can lead to lifelong problems like hearing loss or vision impairment. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that can be contracted from undercooked or unwashed food, or via contact with animal feces. That can also cause hearing, vision, or intellectual challenges.

Get Vaccinated

Vaccines are not only good for your health, but also that of your developing baby. An expectant mother can get a flu shot before or during pregnancy. A whooping cough vaccine can be administered in the last three months of pregnancy. As for COVID-19 vaccines, check with a medical provider first. 

Sources – 2021 National Birth Defects Prevention Month – Alcohol Use in Pregnancy – The Effects of Alcohol on Pregnancy – Smoking, Pregnancy, and Babies – How many people are affected by/at risk for birth defects? – Birth defects – Reducing Risks of Birth Defects – When Vaccine is Limited, Who Gets Vaccinated First?

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance use disorder, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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