House Call: Pregnancy and Birth Defect Prevention
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, birth defects affect about one in 33 babies born in the United States each year.
Also known as congenital disorders, birth defects are problems that are present at birth and affect how the baby looks and/or functions.
More: Pregnancy Statistics
The most essential step in preventing birth defects and maintaining a healthy pregnancy is getting early and regularly scheduled prenatal care. Women should seek medical evaluation soon after their first positive, in-home pregnancy test or first missed menstrual cycle. Early prenatal care provides a good baseline for the doctor to effectively monitor and manage the health of the mother and development of the fetus throughout the pregnancy. It also offers more options for prenatal screening tests.
Prevention of birth defects also involves the mother maintaining good personal health. This involves proper nutrition, exercise, proper management of pre-existing health conditions, and proper prenatal medication management.
Women with pre-existing health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes or hypertension, should work with their healthcare provider to get their conditions under control before trying to get pregnant, and be sure they are properly managed by their physician during pregnancy.
It is also important for expectant mothers to discuss with their doctors medications that are safe and/or unsafe to take during pregnancy.
Alcohol and drug use and/or abuse during pregnancy can significantly increase the risk of birth defects, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. It is also important for women to avoid tobacco-use or second-hand smoke while pregnant, as this can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome and developmental problems.
Expectant mothers in the community are fortunate as the Cone Health network provides exceptional women’s services, such as the Center for Maternal Fetal Care at Women’s Hospital, that are dedicated to educating mothers and families during pregnancy and providing them with proper care.
Laura Mitchell is a registered nurse at the Center for Maternal Fetal Care at Cone Health Women’s Hospital. She has been a nurse for more than twenty years, receiving her associate’s degree in nursing from Delaware Technical Community College in 1992. She became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 2005.