MOODY: Fighting common, costly, and critical birth defects

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

I am lucky to have delivered healthy babies who have turned into healthy kids.

While it often seems like we spend a good amount of time at White-Wilson managing ear infections and strep throat, I know  that it’s just me feeling frustrated about another minor illness, and not an actual health threat.

January is Birth Defects Prevention and Awareness month, and the consortium of organizations, including the March of Dimes and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network is working together  to raise awareness about birth defects.

According to both organizations, a baby with a birth defect is born in the United States every four and a half minutes, and that one in every 33 babies are born with a birth defect annually. Birth defects, they say, are “common, costly, and critical,” but there are a number of things an expectant mother can do to significantly increase her chance of delivering a healthy baby.

One of the easiest recommendations for all women of child bearing age is to consume 400 mg of folic acid daily. Since more than half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, it’s important for all women to try and increase this essential nutrient.

Folic acid can help prevent some common neural tube defects, like spina bifida, and defects of the brain. Much of the development of these two systems can take place before a woman knows she’s pregnant, so if you are a woman of childbearing years, it is critical to make sure you’ve got enough folic acid before you become pregnant. Recent research also indicates that increased consumption of folic acid may help lower the risk of other defects, including a cleft lip or cleft palette.

Scheduling regular prenatal care, which may include genetic testing or standard tests like ultrasound and amniocentesis can diagnosis some birth defects before delivery, giving families the widest array of options before birth.

Since treatment of birth defects can be costly, this also helps families plan accordingly for their baby’s treatment. According to The March of Dimes, birth defects account for more than 139,000 hospital stays annually and result in more than $2.6 billion in associated hospital costs. Some birth defects can’t be diagnosed immediately, but most are caught within the first year of life. Babies who survive the first year of life after being diagnosed with a birth defect can have lifelong challenges, including issues with speech, learning, infection and physical movement.

While some birth defects are caused or affected by genetics, there are others factors that come into play, including behavior and environment. Women who abstain from alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, maintain a healthy weight and have regular prenatal care, have a better chance of delivering healthy babies. Additionally, environmental exposure to chemicals and infectious disease during pregnancy has been linked to an increase risk of birth defects

Everyone wants a healthy baby, and by raising awareness about birth defects, National Birth Defects Prevention Week is working to help women take the steps they need for a healthy pregnancy. If you want to get involved locally, you can contact the March of Dimes of the Emerald Coast or connect with Sacred Heart’s Neonatal Critical Care Unit for volunteer and giving opportunities.

Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at www.emeraldcoasttreasurebox.co