Every year, costs on birth defect related hospital bills exceed USD 2.6 billion.
Type of birth defects. It can occur as a result of a various factors at any point in the pregnancy. Mostly, they occur due to a combination of environment factors, genetics and individual behaviour.
According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), the most common defect is down syndrome with around 6,000 cases per year. Cleft lip is around 4,500 cases and cases for hole in the heart around 2,000 cases per year.
Coleen Boyle, the director of the National Centre on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, cautions that defects not only affect the patient but also the entire family – both emotionally, physically and financially. Thus it is important to take preventive measures.
Though experts do not know the causes of quite a few birth defects and not all birth defects are preventable, preventive measures can still be undertaken by the mother and her family to reduce the risks of occurrence.
Small steps like going for regular check-ups, taking care of yourself and adding 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid in your diet can go a long way into prevention.
The foetus is most vulnerable in the initial stages of the pregnancy that is the first three months. This is the time when the organs of the baby are being formed. Thus, preparing in advance, even before conception, can help improve the baby’s chances.
Based on CDC’s statistics, most pregnancies are unplanned. Hence they suggest that women of childbearing age should in general take care of their health to ensure future health of their babies.
If mothers take the 400 mcg of folic acid, 70% of neural tube defects, 36% spina bifida defects and 17% anencephaly (incomplete formation of the brain, skull and scalp) could be prevented.
Consumption of harmful substances like alcohol and tobacco can cause severe birth defects, premature births, sudden infant death syndrome and miscarriage. Care should be taken to avoid these substances, especially if a couple is trying to get pregnant.
Mothers can also help their unborn children by following a healthy lifestyle which includes following a healthy and balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight. A balanced diet containing fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats is recommended. A healthy lifestyle has the potential of halving the occurrence of birth defects.
Another point of prevention could be women ensuring that they have gotten all their vaccination shots to prevent catching infections.
The habit of pill-popping should also be avoided. Especially for pregnant moms, any medication they take should be in consultation with their doctors.
What can men do?
While the onus of child bearing is with the women, men too can be part of this initiative by being aware and reading up some literature. If they know of some existing genetic history, they should actively participate in uncovering as much information as possible. While the women are making healthier life choices, men should too, by making similar lifestyle adjustments.
So this new year, make a resolution to follow a healthy lifestyle – immaterial of whether or not you plan to start a family.