Tips for Preventing Birth Defects

It’s National Birth Defects Prevention Month, so what better time to review some of the basics in preventing birth defects during your pregnancy?

It’s important to know that not all birth defects are preventable, but some are, and prevention is as simple as following a few basic guidelines during pregnancy. 

The Importance of a Good Prenatal

It’s no surprise that this is our first recommendation! A high-quality prenatal vitamin with folate is key to early fetal development and can help in the prevention of birth defects. MTHR folate, which is what we use in our prenatals, is preferable to folic acid for its bioavailability. Taking prenatal vitamins prior to conception has been shown to reduce the chance of irregularities such as neural tube defects, heart defects, limb deformities, and cleft palate, according to research published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada.

Avoid Infections

You’ll probably recognize some of the following recommendations from your OB visits, but maybe you’ve always wondered why exactly you need to avoid these things. It’s all about preventing infections that may lead to birth defects (in rare cases, so please don’t worry!).

  1. Don’t change cat litter. This is the perfect time to delegate changing the cat litter to your partner (and never look back! *evil laughter*) to avoid the risk of toxoplasmosis. If you do need to change cat litter, wear gloves and wash your hands. Complications from toxoplasmosis may affect baby’s eyesight and brain.
  2. Avoid children’s saliva and urine. Sounds strange, but children’s saliva or urine can carry cytomegalovirus (CMV), which can increase your baby’s risk of birth defects. So, you’ll want to avoid putting your older baby’s pacifier in your mouth and wash your hands after diaper changes, for example.
  3. Get tested for STDs. Some sexually transmitted diseases can affect a baby's development, and not all of them have symptoms, so you’ll want to get tested just in case during early pregnancy. (Your OB will usually do this anyway.) 
  4. Avoid Zika. Zika is linked to microcephaly, a birth defect where the baby’s head and brain are smaller than babies of the same age. Not many of us are travelling, but we’ll still say avoid travelling to areas where Zika is a threat. If you are travelling to or live in an area with Zika, take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Also, note that if your partner has travelled to an area with Zika, you should use a condom during sex, as it can be transmitted through intercourse.
  5. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol. This includes all recreational drugs, including tobacco and marijuana. You may have heard it’s fine to have a small glass of wine from time to time during pregnancy, but this is not backed by any scientific research. Alcohol of all kinds, even in small quantities, has not been proven safe for pregnancy and has been proven to increase the risk of birth defects. We recommend erring on the side of caution just to be safe!

Also, make sure you run any medications by your OB before taking them to be extra sure they’re safe.

Wishing you a happy, healthy pregnancy!

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