Much of the information on how to prevent birth defects pertains to the period of time after a woman finds out she is pregnant. However, as more research is done on the causes of birth defects, medical experts and healthcare professionals are placing increasing emphasis on what women can do before they get pregnant in the first place.
Start Preventing Birth Defects Long Before You Get Pregnant
Why? There are several reasons for this. In some cases, there are pre-existing physical or medical conditions in the mother that may need to be addressed or treated beforehand to protect the baby’s development. In other cases, women don’t realize they are pregnant until well into the first trimester – a critical time for fetal development – which means they eat the wrong foods or consume too much alcohol and/or other harmful chemicals known to cause birth defects. Additionally, women who are pregnant without knowing it aren’t as careful about shielding themselves from the environmental toxins linked to pregnancy complications and birth defects.
The healthier you are before you conceive your baby, the better chances you have of enjoying a full-term pregnancy and giving birth to a baby free of pre-existing medical conditions or defects. Here are some of the steps you can take in your 20s, and beyond, to keep your body in prime health condition.
Observe your regular doctor’s appointments. Have you been skipping your doctor or well-woman checkups? Start booking your appointments now. Those exams often uncover asymptomatic issues that need to be resolved or red flags you may not have noticed. Also, review your current medications and supplements with a healthcare provider to ensure none of them are linked to birth defects.
Take control of your weight. Did you know obesity can affect your chances of fertility? It’s true. Women with body mass indexes (BMIs) of 25 or higher, especially those who are in the 30 and higher category, may find it harder to conceive due to the correlation of fat tissue, insulin sensitivity and hormone balance. Now, researchers have also found a correlation between obese mothers and birth defects. The University of Texas School of Public Health found that for women who are obese, four out of 100 births will result in a baby with birth defects as opposed to three out of 100 births for women who are normal to overweight. If you are obese, work with a compassionate healthcare provider now to take action and get control of your health and your weight.
Stop doing drugs. Period. They are bad for you, they are worse for your baby. If you are thinking about starting a family, now is the time to cease recreational drug use or seek professional help if you feel you have an addiction.
Stop smoking and drinking. Everyone knows that smoking and drinking are bad for your health, but they are also bad for your baby’s well-being. Even more alarming, studies show that women exposed to second- and third-hand smoke are more susceptible to infertility issues. Smoking and alcohol consumption are linked to a myriad of birth defects. This is a great time for you and/or your partner to bite the bullet and ditch the cigarettes and/or excessive drinking habits.
Increase your folic acid intake. Folic acid is a type B vitamin, and it is integral to the development of your baby’s spinal cord and nervous system. Folic acid deficiencies have also been linked to heart defects and cleft lips and palates. Increase your folic acid intake through your diet via leafy greens such as romaine lettuce and spinach, beans, broccoli and citrus fruits. You can also look for folic acid enriched food products. Most multi-vitamins also provide folic acid. If you are trying to get pregnant sooner, rather than later, talk to your healthcare provider about taking a prenatal vitamin now to ensure your body is getting what it needs, and that your baby will get what she needs from the moment of conception.
Decrease your exposure to harmful toxins. Mercury and lead are obvious culprits. Less obvious culprits – unfortunately – are those that experts are only beginning to learn the dangers of. These include things like pesticides and many of the chemicals used in commercial health and beauty products. Do your homework, talk to a healthcare provider in-the-know and start eliminating harmful toxins from your household and diet.
Are you concerned about your ability to become pregnant or conceive a healthy baby due to your family or personal medical history? Contact RRC to speak with fertility specialists and get the information you need to make the best choices for you and your baby.
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