More than 120,000 babies are born with a birth defect each year in the United States – 3,000 of which are born in Kentucky, according to the state Department for Public Health (DPH).
To help raise awareness of this issue and prevent future birth defects, the Kentucky Birth Surveillance Registry (KBSR) Program, which is housed in DPH, is partnering with the National Birth Defects Prevention Network this month to dispense educational information and promote public health resources.
Gov. Steve Beshear officially proclaimed this monthlong observance in the Commonwealth to further emphasize the importance of taking steps to reduce and prevent birth defects.
“Most people are unaware of how common, costly and critical birth defects are in the United States, or that there are simple steps that can be taken to reduce them,” said Monica Clouse, coordinator for KBSR. “Throughout the month of January, DPH will be focusing on raising awareness of this serious health issue among health care professionals, educators, social service professionals, and the general public to emphasize the high prevalence of birth defects and how to prevent them.”
The risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices and medical care before and during pregnancy.
“The health of both parents prior to pregnancy can affect the risk of having a child with a birth defect,” said DPH Genetic Counselor, Joyce Robl. “Food intake, lifestyle choices, factors in the environment, health conditions and medications taken before and during pregnancy all can play a role in reducing or increasing the risk of birth defects.”
Many different kinds of birth defects exist, including congenital heart defects; cleft lip or palate; defects of the brain and spine; defects of the bones, muscles and internal organs; and a variety of genetic syndromes such as Down syndrome. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby’s health, while others have life-threatening or life-long effects, which can often be lessened by early detection and treatment.
Birth defects are the most common cause of death in infants and the second most common cause of death in children ages one to four years. Public awareness, expert medical care, accurate and early diagnosis, and social support systems are all essential for optimal prevention and treatment of these debilitating and often deadly conditions.
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:
• Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
• Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders or phenylketonuria (PKU).
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
• Avoid alcohol, smoking and illicit drugs.
• See a health care provider regularly.
• Avoid toxic substances at work or at home.
• Ensure protection against domestic violence.
• Know their family history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate.
“Small steps like visiting a health care provider before pregnancy and taking a multivitamin every day can go a long way,” said Robl.
The National Birth Defects Prevention Network is working with health care professionals and public health agencies around the country to encourage prevention and awareness of birth defects among the more than 60 million women of childbearing age in the United States. In addition to its efforts in prevention, the network strives to improve nationwide surveillance of birth defects and to advance research on possible causes. It also offers support to families who are dealing with the realities of a child born with one of these conditions. Further information about the network can be found at www.NBDPN.org.
The 2014 National Birth Defects Prevention Network Birth Defects Prevention information packet and archives of previous years’ packets are available online at: http://www.nbdpn.org/bdpm2014.php. All materials can be printed, electronically conveyed, or added to websites for distribution as needed.