A baby is born with a major birth defect in the United States every 4.5 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Birth defects are the leading cause of death among infants born in the United States, accounting for about 20% of infant mortality cases. The CDC reports that babies born with birth defects have an increased chance of illness and long term disabilities than babies born without defects.
January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and a time to raise awareness about how frequently birth defects occur in the U.S., and the steps to help prevent them.
“Many people don’t realize how common birth defects are—they affect almost 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States. Most of us know someone affected by these conditions—a child born with cleft lip and palate; a young girl with Down syndrome; a co-worker who has lost a baby due to a severe heart defect,” states Coleen Boyle, the CDC’s Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
Not every birth defect is preventable, but there are some steps that the CDC recommends women can do to help prepare for a healthy pregnancy:
- Be fit. Eat a healthy diet and work towards a healthy weight before pregnancy.
- Be healthy. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs. Be sure to consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and during early pregnancy. Work to get health conditions, like diabetes, in control before becoming pregnant.
- Be wise. Visit a health care professional regularly. Consult with your healthcare provider about any medications, including prescription and over-the counter medications and dietary or herbal supplements, before taking them.
For more information, the CDC has posted Guidance for Preventing Birth Defects.