How to Reduce the Risks of Birth Defects?
Birth defects are the structural or functional abnormalities that are present at birth. These defects occur while a baby is developing in the mother's body. Some of these are clinically obvious at birth, however, a few get diagnosed much later in life. Examples of birth defects include cleft lip, heart defects, and neural tube defects.
Risk Factors for Birth Defects
Some birth defects can be reduced or totally avoided if risk factors are identified and appropriate preventive measures are taken. These include:
- Age: If you are 35 years or older, then the chances of delivering a baby with birth defects are increased.
- Genetic history: If you have a family or personal history of birth defects, then the baby may also have birth defects.
- Medical conditions: There is an increased risk if you are suffering from medical conditions such as diabetes.
- Previous delivery: If you already have a child with a birth defect, then you are at an increased risk.
- Drugs and alcohol: Consumption of illegal drugs and alcohol puts you in the high-risk category.
- Obesity: An obese mother is more likely to deliver a baby with neural tube defects, heart defects, and abdominal wall defects.
Reducing the risk factors for Birth Defects
From the above-mentioned risk factors, it is evident that a few of them can be controlled. It is always advisable to see your health care provider before you decide to become pregnant. If you are suffering from a medical condition, your doctor can guide you with changes you need to make in your diet, medication, or other areas that will keep the disease in check. You may be encouraged to lose weight prior to becoming pregnant. Your doctor may suggest folic acid supplements that have shown to prevent certain birth defects. As illegal drug use may affect the emotional and functional development of a baby, you should totally avoid them before and during pregnancy. A serious effect of consuming alcohol during pregnancy is fetal alcohol syndrome. So, women should stop drinking alcohol if they are planning a pregnancy.
Some of the necessary dietary habits include using washed and properly cooked vegetables and avoiding certain kinds of fish (shark, swordfish) with high mercury levels. Care should also be taken to avoid exposure to toxic agents such as lead, mercury, and radiation. Cats using a litter box can also be a source of infection, so have someone else empty the litter box during this time.