How Birth Defects are Like the Bogeyman

newbornIf you told me when I was pregnant that more pregnant women fear their baby will come out with a birth defect than the weight gain or the pain of delivery, you wouldn't have surprised me. Estimates place the number of kids who die from birth defects at one out of every five deaths of kids under 1. And that's here in America.

So where's the shocker? How many of those defects could have been prevented rather simply. Throw out the in utero surgeries and the preimplantation genetic diagnosis. I'm talking easy peasy stuff that any woman can -- and frankly should -- do. Birth defects, it turns out, are like the bogeyman. They're scary only as long as you let them be. 


In honor of both the start of a new year and Birth Defect Prevention Month here's an easy checklist to take you out of the 42 percent of women who are terrified their baby will be born with a defect:

Take folic acid:

Your doctor has probably been telling you this from day one, but he/she's not just pushing pills. An estimated 70 percent of neural tube defects can be prevented with just one multivitamin and some good nutritional choices every day. How easy are we talking?  Try adding fortified breakfast cereals, lentils, asparagus, spinach, black beans, peanuts, orange juice, romaine lettuce or broccoli to your diet. There has to be something on that list you enjoy. 

Stop gaining weight:

It's sounds counter intuitive during pregnancy, and optimally you'll lose weight before getting pregnant if you're overweight because obese women have a significantly higher risk of giving birth to a child with a heart defect, spina bifida, septal anomaly, cleft palate and lip, abnormality of the rectum, the brain and the limbs. So what happens if you're already pregnant? Doctors advise that unlike other pregnant women, you should not gain any more during the pregnancy. Your body can already sustain the baby.

Stop drinking:

Do we really have to tell you this? Per recent debates, it would appear so. Let's sum this one up for you: fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the leading completely preventable birth defect and yet 40,000 kids are born with "fetal alcohol effects" every year, and 1 in 750 kids has FAS at birth. Whether one glass of wine every once in awhile will really hurt is still up to the scientists, but there's on very clear fact: if you don't drink anything, there will be no FAS. Period.

Now, was that really so hard?

Image via gregoryallen/Flickr

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