Every four and a half minutes a baby is born with a birth defect, the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. During January, National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) to increase awareness of birth defects in order to prevent them and protect Michigan babies.
There are many different kinds of birth defects, including congenital heart defects, cleft lip or palate, defects of brain and spine, and a variety of genetic syndromes such as Down syndrome. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby’s health, but others can have life-threatening or life-long effects. Additionally, more than 120,000 babies are born with a birth defect (approximately 1 in 33 live births) each year in the United States leading to $2.6 billion per year in hospital costs.
“Most people are unaware of how common, costly and critical birth defects are, or the simple steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of birth defects,” said James K. Haveman, director of the MDCH. “With healthy lifestyle choices before and during pregnancy, as well as increased awareness, we hope to reduce the prevalence of birth defects in Michigan babies.”
Birth defects are the most common cause of death in infants and the second most common cause of death in children between one and four years of age. 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.
“The health of both parents prior to pregnancy can affect the risk of having a child with a birth defect. Diet, lifestyle choices, factors in the environment, health conditions and medications before and during pregnancy all can play a role in preventing or increasing the risk of birth defects,” said Joan Ehrhardt, Birth Defects Prevention Program Coordinator at MDCH.
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:
- Take 400mcg of folic acid daily.
- Eat a healthy diet and aim for a healthy weight.
- Get a medical checkup before pregnancy and address specific health issues including family medical history, weight control, control of diabetes, and use of medications.
- Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke.
- Stop drinking alcohol prior to pregnancy or as early into pregnancy as possible.
To raise awareness, MDCH is also encouraging Michigan families to watch NPDBN’s new campaign, “Birth Defects: Common, Costly, Critical” to gain a better understanding of the effects and reality of birth defects at www.youtube.com/NBDPN.
To learn more about Birth Defects Prevention Month visit www.migrc.org.
For more information on the Michigan Birth Defects Prevention Program, visit www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,4612,7-132-2942_4911_4916_47257-279595--,00.html or contact BDRFollowup@michigan.gov.