Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

5 Tips for Reducing Birth Defect Risks

January is National Birth Defects awareness month. Birth defects affect roughly every 1 in 33 born in the United States each year. Some birth defects are diagnosed prenatally, some escape diagnosis in the newborn period and others are not diagnosed until well not adulthood. Birth defects may be due to genetic changes that occur in families or spontaneously. Other causes include exposure to certain viruses and medications. It has been shown that nutritional deficiencies and diabetes increase the chances of having a child with birth defects.

Common birth defects include heart defects, cleft lip and cleft palate and spina bifida. Unfortunately, not all birth defects can be prevented, but physicians do have recommendations on how to reduce your risk to of having a child with a birth defect.

  • Plan your pregnancy.
  • Folic acid supplementation (400 micrograms) around the time of conception has been shown to reduce the risk of having a child with spina bifida. This is recommended for all pregnant women.
  • Know your family history. If there is a family history of birth defects, discuss this history with a trained genetics professional, your obstetrician gynecologist or your family health care provider.
  • Discuss your required medications with a review your medication genetics professional, your obstetrician gynecologist or your family health care provider before you begin trying to conceive a pregnancy. Some medications increase the risk of birth defects; these include medications used for hypertension and seizure control.
  • Make every effort to achieve good diabetes control before you begin trying to conceive a pregnancy. Poor control of diabetes is a well-known risk factor for birth defects.

Remember that many birth defects occur randomly. There may be no family risk factors, medication or viral exposure. A patient may have a child with birth defects despite having excellent control of their diabetes. Birth defects can be diagnosed with prenatal ultrasound in some cases. The Maternal Fetal Care Program at the University of Florida Health has experience in managing pregnancies complicated by fetal birth defects. Our group of experienced maternal-fetal medicine physicians, trained genetics professionals, neonatologists, pediatric surgeons, surgical specialists, pediatric neurologists and pediatric infectious disease doctors provides care to families in order to improve the life of children with birth defects.

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