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Pregnancy and Birth Defects

Pregnancy and Birth DefectsTake steps to reduce the risk of birth defects before and during pregnancy


According to the CDC, about 3% of babies are born with a birth defect, which is a broad term for any medical condition that’s present at birth. The exact cause of many birth defects is still unknown. And some are caused by factors that can’t be changed, like genetics. 


However, for some birth defects, you can take proactive steps before and during pregnancy to reduce your risk. From medications to infections, your OB GYN can guide you on how to keep yourself and your baby as healthy as possible. 



Talk to your OB GYN if you’re planning a pregnancy


One of the best steps you can take to reduce the risk of birth defects is preconception planning. If you know you want to try to have a baby, talk with your OB GYN first. He or she can help you make medical and lifestyle changes to set you up for a healthy pregnancy in the future. 


Your OB GYN will likely recommend you start a prenatal vitamin when you’re trying to conceive. These contain essential nutrients that support development—sometimes before you even know you’re pregnant. For example, the Office on Women’s Health says taking a supplement with folic acid can help reduce the risk of specific spine and brain conditions.  



Make a plan for medications 


Many over-the-counter and prescription medications are considered safe during pregnancy. However, some medications have a clear connection to the risk of certain birth defects. If you take a medication, the FDA provides medication guides with information about known side effects or precautions with pregnancy.


Before you become pregnant or as soon as you know you are pregnant, talk to your OB GYN about any medications you currently take. Because the decision to take a medication during pregnancy isn’t always clear-cut, your OB GYN can help you weigh the risks and benefits. Together, you can decide whether you should continue a medication or adjust your plan. 



Manage existing medical conditions


In addition to managing any medications, you may be able to take other steps to better manage your medical conditions before and during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, or seizure disorders can increase the risk of birth defects. Talk to your OB GYN about the best ways to keep your medical conditions under control or any lifestyle changes you should make to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications. 



Prevent infections during pregnancy


Some infections during pregnancy can increase your baby’s risk of birth defects. One way to prevent infections is to ensure you’re up to date on immunizations before you get pregnant. For instance, vaccines are available to protect against rubella and chickenpox. The flu shot or the vaccine that prevents whooping cough may be an option after you’re already pregnant too. 


You can also take steps to prevent foodborne illnesses during pregnancy. Infections from bacteria like listeriosis can have serious effects on your unborn baby. That’s why it’s important to take precautions, such as heating up deli meats or avoiding unpasteurized dairy products. Your OB GYN can provide you with a complete list of foods to avoid or that require special preparation.



Avoid harmful substances


Alcohol, smoking, and other drugs put your baby at a higher risk of birth defects. Make a plan and connect with the resources you need to stop these before you get pregnant. The U.S. Library of Medicine says drinking during pregnancy is linked to a wide range of concerns, including physical, developmental, and behavioral problems. Smoking and illegal drugs may increase the risk of low birth weight, birth defects, and complications after birth.



Get support for a prenatal diagnosis


If prenatal testing shows your baby is likely to have a birth defect, many resources exist to support you and help you understand the next steps in your care. An OB GYN who is board-certified in maternal-fetal medicine is a great resource for medical conditions diagnosed during pregnancy. These OB GYNs have special training and experience to guide you through even the most complex prenatal diagnoses and decisions. 


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