January is Birth Defects Prevention month. Birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. This means that a baby is born with a birth defect about every 4 ½ minutes. Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth and can cause problems in overall health, in how the body develops or works. Some infections before and during pregnancy can have serious consequences, including causing certain birth defects. Not all birth defects can be prevented. But there are some things that you can do before and during pregnancy to protect yourself and your baby.
Practice good hygiene
- Wash your hands with soap and water often.
- Take precautions when preparing food.
- Make sure to wash hands after changing diapers or wiping runny noses. Don’t share cups or utensils with young children.
- Stay away from wild or pet rodents, live poultry, lizards, and turtles.
- Do not clean a cat litter box during pregnancy.
Talk to your health care provider
- Talk to your provider about what you can do to prevent infections, such as Zika.
- Discuss how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
- Make sure you are getting the right amount of folic acid. Most women should be taking 400mcg of folic acid before pregnancy.
- Your provider can make sure that you are up to date on all your routine adult vaccinations before you get pregnant.
- The CDC recommends two vaccinations during pregnancy: the flu shot and the pertussis vaccine (Tdap) at 27 to 36 weeks of pregnancy. Pertussis (also called whooping cough) is an extremely contagious disease that causes violent coughing and is dangerous for a baby. Pregnant women should get a dose of Tdap during every pregnancy, to protect their baby.
Prevent insect bites
- Take precautions to protect yourself from animals known to carry diseases and insects that may carry infections, such as Zika.
- Avoid travel to Zika-affected areas. Be sure to discuss any travel plans with your provider.
- When mosquitoes are active, prevent mosquito bites using an EPA-registered bug spray containing one of these ingredients: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or IR3535.
- Wear appropriate clothing when outside, such as a hat, long-sleeved shirt, pants, shoes, & socks.
- Don’t have sex with a male or female partner who may be infected with Zika virus or who has recently traveled to a Zika-affected area.
And don’t forget that there are many other steps that you can take to get ready for a healthy pregnancy: