June 15, 2021

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Birth Defects Prevention Month

Photo: EFE / Marta Pérez / Archive

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month, a time for expectant mothers or expectant mothers to take care of themselves and the health of their future babies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), birth defects affect 1 in 33 babies and are the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States.

In addition, babies who survive, and live with birth defects, are at increased risk for life-long physical, cognitive, and social problems.

CDC works to identify the causes of birth defects, find opportunities to prevent them, and improve the health of those living with these conditions.

By using a public health approach that incorporates three essential elements — disease surveillance or monitoring, research to identify causes, and programs and research for prevention — scientific findings can quickly be applied to appropriate public health interventions.

Understanding the possible causes of birth defects can lead to recommendations, guidelines, and services to help prevent them. CDC is working to reach the day when all children are born in the best possible health.

Although the cause of most birth defects is not known, the good news is that we do know how to prevent some of them.

For example, it has been learned that taking folic acid before and during the first few weeks of pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of having a baby with severe birth defects in the brain and spine, called neural tube defects (NTDs).

This research finding led to the recommendation that all women who could become pregnant take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.

It has also been learned that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause the baby to be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Therefore, CDC is working with partners to educate women about the risk of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Studies have also clearly shown that maternal obesity is a major risk factor for several serious birth defects and have confirmed the association between maternal smoking and having a baby with a cleft lip or palate.

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