Birth Defects Prevention Month raises awareness

PARKERSBURG – Camden Clark Medical Center is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network to increase awareness of birth defects, the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States.

Camden Clark is focusing on raising awareness among health care professionals, educators, social service professionals and the public about the frequency with which birth defects occur in the United States and the steps that can be taken to prevent them. A baby is born with a birth defect in the United States every 4.5 minutes.

The risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices and medical care before and during pregnancy.

Congenital heart defects, cleft lip or palate, defects of the brain and spine, bones, muscles and internal organs and genetic syndromes such as Down syndrome are birth defects. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby’s health while others have life-threatening or life-long effects, which can often be lessened by early detection and treatment.

More than 120,000 babies born with a birth defect, 1 in 33 live births, are reported each year in the United States. Birth defects are the most common cause of death in infants and the second most common cause of death in children aged 1 to 4 years.

Public awareness, expert medical care, accurate and early diagnosis, and social support systems are all essential for optimal prevention and treatment of these all-too-common and often deadly conditions.

“Most people are unaware of how common, costly and critical birth defects are in the United States, or that there are simple steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of birth defects,” said Martha Dawson, director of Women and Children’s Services at Camden Clark Medical Center. “The health of both parents prior to pregnancy can affect the risk of having a child with a birth defect. Food intake, life-style choices, factors in the environment, health conditions and medications before and during pregnancy all can play a role in reducing or increasing the risk of birth defects.”

Studies have demonstrated several important steps women can take to help prevent birth defects. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are advised to:

* Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily

* Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or phenylketonuria (PKU)

* Reach and maintain a healthy weight

* Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter

* Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs

* See a health care provider regularly

* Avoid toxic substances at work or at home

* Ensure protection against domestic violence

* Know their family history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate

“Small steps like visiting a health care provider before pregnancy and taking a multivitamin every day can go a long way,” said Dawson.

The network is working with health care professionals and public health agencies around the country to encourage prevention and awareness of birth defects among the over 60 million women of childbearing age in the United States.

In addition to its efforts in prevention, the network works to improve nationwide surveillance of birth defects and to advance research on possible causes. It also offers support to families who are dealing with the realities of a child born with one of these conditions. Further information about the organization can be found at www.NBDPN.org.