Giving birth to a healthy baby is the heart’s desire of any pregnant woman. And, while certain factors are outside of your control, there are things you can do to minimize the chance of having a baby with birth defects.
Some of them require pre-planning, others should commence the minute you find out you’re pregnant.
7 Things You Can Do to Minimize the Risk of Birth Defects
Here are 7 things we recommend prioritizing when you decide you’re ready to get pregnant.
1) Talk to your doctor about preconception genetic screening
Remember learning about Mendel, his pea plants and basic genetics during high school biology? If so, you also remember recessive genes require two copies (one from the mother and one from the father) in order to be expressed in the child. As a result, preconception genetic testing can provide a tremendous amount of information regarding your chances of having a child with certain chromosomal or genetic disorders.
Typically, we test for things like:
- Down Syndrome
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Sickle cell anemia
- Tay Sachs
- Fragile X
- any disorders or conditions relevant to your personal medical history
If the mother tests positive for these and/or other genetic disorders, their partner should be tested as well. These tests are almost always fully or partially covered by insurance.
2) Honor routine prenatal care appointments
Prenatal care plays a strong role in genetic diseases and other medical conditions a baby is at risk for because a mother’s nutrition and lifestyle choices matter. Prenatal care also allows us to use screening and fetal testing tools – such as ultrasounds, blood tests, amniocentesis, etc. to evaluate baby’s health in utero.
3) Do not drink alcohol while pregnant
While we know some cultures advise drinking in moderation isn’t a problem when pregnant, we feel the only way to know you’re doing absolutely everything you can to prevent birth defects is to not drink at all. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy puts baby at risk for things like premature birth, brain damage and other issues with physical development, miscarriages, stillbirth and the spectrum of fetal alcohol syndrome disorders.
4) Try to get pregnant before age 38 and beyond
While assisted reproductive technology, including IVF, has come a long way – it’s still very expensive and emotionally grueling. If you are able to plan your pregnancy before age 38 (before age 36 is even better), you’ll notably increase your chances of fertility, a healthy pregnancy and the birth of a live baby without birth defects.
5) Eat well and take prenatal vitamins as prescribed by your doctor
You are what you eat, and your baby is what you eat as well. Nutrition is key when it comes to carrying a healthy, full-term baby. Even something as “simple” as a lack of folic acid can increase your chances of having a baby with spina bifida or other neurological problems. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, focus on lean proteins (including healthy fish), minimize your intake of processed and fast foods, and ask your doctor about the best prenatal vitamins for you.
6) Treat any existing medical conditions
If you’re diabetic or have other known medical conditions, it’s imperative to manage them carefully and effectively to minimize any potential compromise to your baby’s development and/or health.
7) Quit smoking
Tobacco use, particularly smoking, is linked to increased risk of multiple health issues, ranging from miscarriages, premature birth, babies with asthma, cleft palates and/or lips and a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome. The sooner you stop smoking and using tobacco products the better.
Schedule an appointment with Women’s Health Associates and our team promises we’ll make every effort to support your holistic health and minimize the risk of a baby born with birth defects.