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What You Need to Know About Preventing Birth Defects

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Obviously, the goal of every mom-to-be is to welcome a full-term, healthy baby into the world. While birth defects cannot entirely be prevented, it’s possible to increase the chances of having a healthy baby by following a few healthy lifestyle options.

For example, did you know that folic acid is known to prevent many serious birth defects and is found in most vitamin supplements, especially those that are labeled as “prenatal” vitamins? And did you know that there also are many foods that are rich in folic acid, including asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits and avocados, as well as dark, leafy greens such as spinach and romaine lettuce?

One recent survey found that, while nearly two-thirds of women did know that folic acid is an important nutrient in preventing birth defects, only about a third regularly took a multivitamin with folic acid before learning they were pregnant. The poll also found that many women didn’t know that iron, calcium and vitamin D also are important in protecting developing babies against defects. Additionally, a small number of women didn’t realize that avoiding tobacco reduces the risk of birth defects and that eliminating the consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs during pregnancy would have similar benefits.

If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, here are some important steps you can take to help keep you and your baby healthy.

Take folic acid.

It’s best to start at least a month prior to becoming pregnant then throughout your pregnancy. For women of child-bearing age, at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, either from multivitamins or food, is recommended. Specifically, some of the birth defects that folic acid can help prevent are neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.

See your doctor regularly.

Starting as soon as you think you might be pregnant, schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional and continue with regular prenatal care throughout your pregnancy.

Stop drinking alcohol.

There is no known safe amount of alcohol you can consume while pregnant without putting your baby at risk for birth defects (and that includes wine and beer).

If you use tobacco, quit.

Tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, has been linked to cleft lip, cleft palate, low birth weight, preterm birth and infant death.

Limit caffeine.

Because caffeine is a stimulant, it increases your heart rate and blood pressure, neither of which are good during pregnancy.

Ask your physician about genetic screening and what it involves.

This is especially important if you have a family history of birth defects or if you’re 35 years of age or older.

Finally, try to relax with some dedicated “me” time and enjoy this very special time in your life! To learn more about mother/baby care at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, visit WinniePalmerHospital.com.

About the Author

Christine Greves, MD, is a board-certified OB-GYN with the Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital Center for Obstetrics & Gynecology. Dr. Greves received her medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine where she also completed her residency. She is a fellow of the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).

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