Your Health: Healthy lifestyle changes are the key to preventing birth defects |

Your Health: Healthy lifestyle changes are the key to preventing birth defects

Nate Waggenspack
Scheduling regular appointments to check on a pregnancy is a great place to start when trying to avoid birth defects, which affect about 3 percent of babies in the U.S.
Courtesy Photo

— Having a child can be one of the wonderful experiences in adult life, but taking care of the one on the way and yourself for the better part of a year can add stress and difficulty to your life.

Everyone hopes for a healthy baby, but it doesn’t always work that way. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 33 babies (about 3 percent) in the U.S. is born with a defect. While sometimes a birth defect cannot be avoided in a newborn, there are ways to decrease the chances of an unhealthy baby. And that’s important beyond the obvious, as birth defects account for more than 20 percent of infant deaths, according to the CDC.

Doctors recommend some habits for keeping a baby healthy that may require changes from a normal day-to-day routine.

A healthier personal lifestyle is among the most important steps to take. Most of what the mother does while pregnant is a part of the fetus’s day-to-day habits, as well, but the fetus is not as resilient in dealing with some harmful substances and can greatly benefit from the good ones. A balanced diet and exercise are major boons to a pregnancy, while smoking, drugs and alcohol can increase the chances of a birth defect.

Some countries outside the U.S. say drinking in moderation while pregnant is OK for a baby’s health, but inside the country, doctors still recommend abstaining, saying there is not yet enough real evidence to make that conclusion. Heavy drinking during pregnancy, however, is known to create greater mental health risks in a child as well as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which cannot occur without alcohol consumption, according to the CDC.

Cleft lips and cleft palates are rare among newborns, but smoking can increase the chances of occurrence. Smoking and drugs also can create a higher probability of premature birth.

Expectant mothers also can help their babies by avoiding infection to the best of their ability. Infections can come along unexpectedly, but doing simple things such as washing hands often and properly cooking meat will help keep them away.

If expectant mothers have a pre-existing condition, speaking with their doctor and figuring out the effects diabetes or depression could have on a child is important, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those could predispose a fetus to those conditions but also could have different effects on the mother during the pregnancy, so understanding those items is important during any pregnancy.

While there are certain habits that can be important to cut out during pregnancy, others are important to pick up. A hefty dose of folic acid (400 grams daily, according to the CDC) is a major preventer of anencephaly, in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull, as well as spina bifida, a spine defect. Both are serious birth defects, and folic acid can drastically increase the chances of avoiding them.

The causes of certain defects such as Down syndrome are unknown. But leading a healthy lifestyle and scheduling regular doctor visits during pregnancy will never hurt, according to Down syndrome can be detected before birth in some cases, which can at least allow the parents and family to learn about and prepare for what to expect with that child.

Regardless of an expectant parent’s worry or situation, communicating with the doctor and staying up to date on the pregnancy is always a good place to start.

Contact Nate Waggenspack at 970-875-1795 or

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