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National Birth Defects Prevention Month seeks to raise awareness of birth defects: Written by Tracy Stewart RN, BSN, Director of Obstetrical Services at MCH
January 24, 2014

Madison County Hospital is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) to increase awareness of birth defects, the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States.

 

Every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States. In honor of January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month, MCH is actively focusing on raising awareness among healthcare professionals, educators, social service professionals, and many segments of the general public about the frequency that birth defects occur in the United States and the steps that can be taken to prevent them. The risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices and medical care before and during pregnancy.

 

There are many different kinds of birth defects including congenital heart defects, cleft lip or palate, defects of the brain and spine, bones, muscles and internal organs, and a variety of genetic syndromes such as Down syndrome. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby’s health while others have life-threatening or lifelong effects, which can often be lessened by early detection and treatment.

 

More than 120,000 babies born with a birth defect (approximately 1 in every 33 live births) are reported each year in the United States.  Ohio is similar to this national statistic.  Birth defects are the most common cause of death in infants and the second most common cause of death in children aged one to four years. Public awareness, expert medical care, accurate and early diagnosis, and social support systems are all essential for optimal prevention and treatment of these all-too-common and often deadly conditions.

 

“Most people are unaware of how common, costly and critical birth defects are in the United States, or that there are simple steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of birth defects,” says Dr. Mitchell Spahn of Columbus OB/GYN of London.  “The health of both parents prior to pregnancy can affect the risk of having a child with a birth defect. Food intake, lifestyle choices, factors in the environment, health conditions and medications before and during pregnancy all can play a role in reducing or increasing the risk of birth defects."

Studies have demonstrated several important steps women can take to help prevent birth defects. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are advised to:

 

  • Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily

  • Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or phenylketonuria (PKU)

  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight

  • Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter

  • Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs

  • See a health care provider regularly

  • Avoid toxic substances at work or at home

  • Ensure protection against domestic violence

  • Know their family history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate

“Small steps like visiting your healthcare provider before and during pregnancy, having a diet rich in fruits and vegetables along with taking a multivitamin every day can go a long way,” says Dr. Martha Geib, Pediatrician at London Pediatrics.

 

MCH is participating in National Birth Defects Prevention Month by distributing information to women about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy.  The OB department has also made it protocol to screen every newborn for congenital heart disease before discharging them home.

 

The NBDPN is working with healthcare professionals and public health agencies around the country to encourage prevention and awareness of birth defects among the more than 60 million women of childbearing age in the United States. In addition to its efforts in prevention, the NBDPN works to improve nationwide surveillance of birth defects and to advance research on possible causes. It also offers support to families who are dealing with the realities of a child born with one of these conditions. Further information about the NBDPN can be found at www.NBDPN.org.

 

“We are excited to be part of this national campaign," says Tracy Stewart RN, BSN, Director of Obstetrical Services at MCH.  "Through our efforts across the country, we plan to reach millions of women and their families with vital prevention information."

 

To learn more, please contact the MCH OB department at 740-845-7272.

 

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London, Ohio 43140
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