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Healthy pregnancy habits can prevent birth defects

By Kimberly Henderson, DO  |  1/20/2017

An infant born with a cleft lip. A child with Down syndrome. A stillborn with a heart abnormality.

Many of us know someone affected by a birth defect. A baby is born with a major defect every 4 1/2 minutes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the causes of many defects are still being researched, there are actions women can take to protect their babies. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, a time to bring awareness to healthy pregnancy. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Take folic acid. All women who can become pregnant need it. Birth defects of the baby's brain and spine happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman finds out she's pregnant. The CDC recommends all women of child-bearing age get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. It's found in leafy greens, legumes and citrus fruits, but the recommendation is to take a multivitamin. Folic acid assists your body with new cell growth and aids in disease prevention, not just against birth-defect development and miscarriages. 
  2. Research your medications, supplements and herbal remedies. Many women need to take medication during pregnancy to appropriately manage their health conditions. However, you should speak to your health provider about over-the-counter and prescribed medications, supplements, herbal remedies including essential oils and other vitamins you take. I like the website mothertobaby.org.  This is a helpful resource to look up drug effects.
  3. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and exposure to infections.
  4. Eat a healthy diet and work toward a healthy weight.
  5. Do not travel to areas of the world with Zika virus outbreaks. The virus can cause certain brain birth defects and is spread mainly through mosquitoes. Talk to your healthcare provider about your travel plans.

Birth defects are far too common. Women can improve their chances of having a healthy baby by learning about birth defect prevention and receiving proper prenatal care.

Dr. Kimberly Henderson is a Health Quest Medical Practice obstetrician and gynecologist with offices in Kingston and Rhinebeck. Appointments can be made by calling HQMP Connect at 1-888-525-HQMP (TTY 800-421-1220).