Birth Defects Prevention Awareness: Centers For Disease Control Operation “PACT”
Birth defects are common, costly, and critical. Every 4½ minutes, a baby is born with a major birth defect in the United States (20 of them in New Jersey), with hospital costs for birth defect treatment costing more than $2.5 billion annually. Babies born with a birth defect are more likely to die before their first birthday.
That is why this year’s National Birth Defects Prevention Month focuses on encouraging everyone to help lower the risk of birth defects. How? By making a PACT to take control of your health (and that of family you may have one day) by: Planning ahead, Avoiding harmful substances, Choosing a healthy lifestyle, and Talking with your healthcare provider.
Make a plan for having children – or not having children! It’s also known as preconception health, and it is especially important if you are taking certain medications or using other substances (including alcohol) that increase the risk for birth defects. No one expects an unplanned pregnancy, but half of all pregnancies in the United States are. Planning ahead involves taking control, setting goals for the future, choosing healthy habits, and taking the steps needed.
Think about your goals for school, working, or other important things in your life. Then think about how having children fits in with these goals. When you decide you’re ready for parenthood, plan your pregnancy. Whether you are ready to have a baby now or in your near or distant future, it is never too early to start planning.
For instance, while all women should get 400 micrograms (mcg) of the B vitamin folic acid (or folate) every day, it’s especially important for both mother and father take it daily at least one month before the pregnancy! Folic acid helps prevent certain major spinal and brain birth defects. Women should take it daily throughout the pregnancy (such as in a women’s multivitamin or pre-natal vitamin), or eat foods that have added folic acid like breakfast cereals. Natural folate can be found in dark leafy greens, beans, and peanuts.
And as long as we’ve touched on the subject, preconception health isn’t only “women’s work”: Damage to genes inherited from the father’s sperm can also affect a baby’s development. The father’s age, the food he eats, or the medications he takes can lead to changes not only in the sequence of his contribution to the genetic code, but also in how or when genetic information is used.