National Birth Defects Prevention Month

January 2, 2024 | by Stephani Monhollon
National Birth Defects Prevention Month

Cultivating a Healthy Start: Preventing Birth Defects Through Preconception and Prenatal Wellness

Embarking on the journey of parenthood is a profound and exciting experience. As expectant parents, the choices made before and during pregnancy can significantly impact the health of both mother and baby.

According to the March of Dimes, about one in 33 babies in the United States is born with a birth defect each year. While some birth defects are not preventable, preconception and prenatal wellness are powerful tools for preventing birth defects and fostering a healthy start to life.

“Preconception and prenatal care are not just steps in a journey; they are valuable aids for shaping a healthy future,” said Kyle Graham, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist (OBGYN) with Obstetrics and Gynecology of San Jose, part of Pediatrix® Medical Group. “By prioritizing wellness before and during pregnancy, we empower parents to be active participants in preventing birth defects, helping ensure healthy outcomes for both mom and baby.”

The Preconception Period

Long before the positive pregnancy test, the preconception period sets the stage for a healthy pregnancy. Future parents can optimize their chances of a healthy pregnancy by adopting certain lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a balanced diet, managing stress, achieving a healthy weight and avoiding harmful substances like tobacco and excessive alcohol.

Nutrition as a Foundation

A well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients is a cornerstone of a healthy pregnancy. Incorporating foods high in folate and folic acid, such as leafy greens, legumes, citrus fruits, nuts and seeds and fortified grains, plays a crucial role in preventing neural tube defects. This is critical because the neural tube forms the early brain and spine. Folic acid may also contribute to a lower risk of congenital heart defects.

Numerous vitamins and minerals are crucial in healthy fetal development. For example, iron helps prevent anemia during pregnancy, which is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. Calcium is essential for the development of a baby’s bones and teeth. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is vital for bone development.

In addition to making healthy food choices, taking a prenatal vitamin as recommended by an OBGYN can significantly contribute to the prevention of certain birth defects.

“Prenatal vitamins play a crucial role in preventing birth defects by providing essential nutrients that support the healthy development of the fetus,” said Dr. Graham.

Regular Exercise and Physical Activity

Staying physically active during pregnancy has numerous benefits, from promoting overall health to reducing the risk of certain complications. Engaging in moderate exercise, under the guidance of a health care professional, can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight and supporting optimal maternal well-being.

Avoiding Harmful Substances

The avoidance of harmful substances is paramount to birth defect prevention, including refraining from smoking, illicit drug use and limiting alcohol consumption when trying to conceive and refraining throughout pregnancy. Future fathers should also be mindful of their lifestyle choices, as paternal health can influence fetal development.

Prenatal Care and Regular Check-ups

Once pregnancy is confirmed, seeking timely and regular prenatal care is essential. Health care professionals monitor the health of both mother and baby, provide necessary screenings and offer guidance on nutrition, exercise and overall well-being. Detecting and addressing any potential issues early on can significantly contribute to a positive pregnancy outcome.

Genetic Counseling

For couples with a family history of birth defects or other genetic concerns, genetic counseling provides valuable insights. This service helps individuals understand their risk factors, allowing for informed decisions and personalized care plans to reduce the likelihood of certain genetic conditions.

Starting Life on a Healthy Note

Every healthy choice made today is an investment in the well-being of the precious life of tomorrow. Embracing a holistic approach to health before and during pregnancy lays the foundation for a healthy and thriving start to life. By prioritizing preconception and prenatal wellness, expectant parents can actively contribute to the prevention of birth defects and set the stage for a positive and joyful journey into parenthood.

“For those considering parenthood, now is the time to become your healthiest,” said Dr. Graham. “And for those who have a baby on the way, it’s not too late to implement healthy lifestyle choices and get started on prenatal care.”