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In the United States of America, a baby is born with one birth defect or another every 4 1/2 minutes. Although the spectrum of birth defects is wide, the most common defects reported are heart defects, cleft lip/palate or Down syndrome. Birth defects most certainly make it more difficult for a baby to remain healthy in the long run and can prove to be a high-risk factor when it comes to the chances of survival for the baby.

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It is not only the baby that is affected by the defect it is born with. Though birth defects are the primary cause of death in the first year of a baby’s life, they can impact and destroy families as well. January is the National Birth Defects Prevention Month. On this month, we strive to make all of you aware about birth defects and share with you the knowledge we have gathered regarding this condition.

Understand the potential causes of birth defects in order to prevent them. Take action today for your own health and the health of the family you are going to have. The theme for the 2018 National Birth Defects Prevention Month is “Prevent to Protect : Prevent Infections for Baby’s Protection”. 

TYPES OF BIRTH DEFECTS

The two main types of birth defects are – structural and functional.

When it is a problem with body parts, it is a structural birth defect. These may include abnormal limbs such as a clubfoot, heart defects, or neural tube defects (problems associated with the growth and development of the brain and spinal cord).

When it is a problem with how a body system or body part works, it is a functional birth defect. These can often lead to developmental disabilities and include learning disabilities, deafness, metabolic disorders, or degenerative disorders.

Let us take a closer look at the types of birth defects we have already discussed.

The most common type of birth defect is a heart defect. 1 in 100 babies in the US are born with it. Also, it is the leading cause of deaths related to birth defects, among infants.
The second most common type is cleft lip/palate. It affects about 1 in 700 babies.
Down syndrome, which is a chromosomal defect, strikes approximately 1 in 800 babies.
Spina bifida, a defect which causes the spine to fail to close properly while a foetus is being developed, hits about 1 in 2500 babies.

CAUSES OF BIRTH DEFECTS

Now what causes birth defects? The question does not have one simple answer, because such defects are often caused due to combined factors. The causes of about 70% birth defects remain unknown.

One known cause of birth defects is genetic factors. One or both parents may pass a faulty gene to the baby, leading to single-gene mutations. There may be chromosomal abnormalities when there is an error in the structure or number of a particular chromosome.
A leading component contributing to birth defects is environmental factors. A teratogen is an environmental substance that causes such defects. Alcohol and drugs (both prescription and illegal) are examples of common teratogens. 
Birth defects may also be caused because of genetic and environmental factors combined. In such a case, a baby is more likely to have a particular birth defect if it is exposed to certain environmental substances, because of its genetic makeup. These substances may include cigarette smoke or alcohol.
Infections like rubella, cytomegalovirus (CMV), toxoplasmosis, syphilis, or chicken pox, if found in pregnant women, can also cause birth defects.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT BIRTH DEFECTS

Let us discuss some steps you can take to lower the risk of birth defects for the baby you are carrying.

Before conceiving as well as during pregnancy, take 400 micrograms of folic acid on a daily basis. This decreases the rates of anencephaly and spina bifida in babies.
Start prenatal care as soon as you know you are pregnant
Avoid drinking, smoking, or doing drugs. Drinking and smoking while you are pregnant increases the chances of a baby being born with FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and cleft lip/palate respectively.
Always talk to a health provider before stopping the medication you are currently taking or starting new drugs. Have a discussion with your doctor and determine if your medications are safe to take while you are pregnant.
Maintain a healthy weight with the help of proper diet and regular exercise.
Maintain hygiene to avoid getting infected.
Make sure that your vaccinations are up to date.
Keep chronic medical conditions like diabetes and obesity, under control, as these may increase the risk for birth defects.
Avoid harmful exposures at work or home.
Avoid unpasteurised milk or products made from such milk.
Avoid raw or undercooked meat and caffeine.

A birth defect is not a death sentence. Do not fear it, be aware of it. It is essential to nurture yourself during pregnancy. So get ready for your pregnancy and give your baby a healthy start!

NATIONAL BIRTH DEFECTS PREVENTION MONTH

A birth is emotionally and financially draining for families and people living with these defects. It is a serious health condition indeed and calls for a nationwide awareness campaign among mothers and families. The National Birth Defects Prevention Month informs us about how to plan ahead for a pregnancy that is healthy and helps us understand the risk factors and causes leading to birth defects. Thus we can move forward to early diagnosis or even prevention of those defects.

The National Birth Defects Prevention Month also identifies what needs to be studied in future and attempts to learn about ongoing medical advancements that can be used to treat birth defects. The campaign aims to improve the quality of life in general for those suffering from these defects. It offers actionable steps to be taken by the public and teaches us to support people whose lives are affected by such defects.

We cannot prevent all birth defects. But what we can do is – increase the chances of bringing a healthy baby into the world by helping the would-be mother manage her health conditions and embrace healthy behaviours before she becomes pregnant.

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