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:
- 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.
- Prevent insect bites. Use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside and consider avoiding travel to areas with Zika virus.
- Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water, and avoid putting a young child’s cup or pacifier in your mouth.
- Choose a healthy lifestyle. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
- Avoid harmful substances. Quit smoking, avoid alcohol and do not use “street” drugs. Men also shouldn’t drink excessively.
- 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.