A birth defect can be defined as an abnormality of structure, function or body chemistry that is present at birth, which results in a physical or mental disability. According to March of Dimes, about 150,000 babies are born with birth defects each year in the United States. Birth defects can be minor, serious or even life-threatening. Birth defects may be caused by various factors including the lifestyle to which the pregnant mother and her child are exposed.
Anyone who is pregnant or plans to become pregnant should be aware that living a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy can help avoid the risks of having a baby with birth defects. A mother can reduce the environmental factors that put her baby at risk for birth defects by controlling what she is exposed to before and during pregnancy.
Here are some of the steps women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant can take in order to avoid complications:
- Avoid Alcohol: Even small amounts of alcohol have shown to have a detrimental effect on babies. Children who are exposed to alcohol during pregnancy may experience a variety of disabilities, many of them lifelong.
- No Smoking: A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that babies’ risk of having certain types of congenital heart defects was 20 to 70 percent higher for babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. The defects included right ventricular outflow tract obstructions and atrial septal defects.
- Avoiding Recreational Drugs: Recreational drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and amphetamines have shown to seriously affect a child’s growth and development. Use of drugs such as methamphetamines could also cause congenital heart defects and other malformations.
- Prescription Drugs: Most prescription drugs are safe to take during pregnancy. But there are also many drugs that could have serious side effects. There are many drugs such as antidepressants that are known to cause serious and life-threatening birth defects in babies that are exposed to them during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant would be well advised to check with a physician before taking any medication – prescription or over-the counter – as well as do independent research.
There are some congenital defects that cannot be avoided. However, a number of birth defects are entirely preventable when the mother adopts a healthy lifestyle, one that is suitable for herself and her child. Finding out a baby has a birth defect can be a frightening and emotionally traumatizing experience. You may be able to prevent such situations by adopting a healthy lifestyle free of alcohol, cigarettes, recreational and other harmful drugs.