6 ways to help prevent birth defects

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness of the causes and impacts of birth defects.

In the U.S., a baby is born with a birth defect every 4 ½ minutes. Birth defects are a leading cause of infant mortality, and babies with birth defects have an increased risk for developing life-long physical, cognitive or social challenges.

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but the chances of having a healthy baby can be increased by adopting healthy behaviors before and during pregnancy.

Here are a few things both men and women can do to prevent birth defects:

  1. Get vaccinated. Women should get both the flu shot and the whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy, and become up-to-date with other vaccines before getting pregnant.
  2. Prevent insect bites. Use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside and consider avoiding travel to areas with Zika virus.
  3. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water, and avoid putting a young child’s cup or pacifier in your mouth.
  4. Choose a healthy lifestyle. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  5. Avoid harmful substances. Quit smoking, avoid alcohol and do not use “street” drugs. Men also shouldn’t drink excessively.
  6. Talk to your healthcare provider. Discuss any medication you’re taking and what you can do to prevent infections and sexually transmitted diseases that might increase risk of birth defects.

Next steps: