A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Birth defects prevention tips

Close up of a pregnant woman - Birth defects related to Zika virus

It’s a good idea to commit to these behavioral and health-related habits that can help with birth defects prevention.

Pregnancy is a time of joy but also a time of trepidation. The normal world—from the deli case to the rollercoaster—instantly transforms into a virtual circus of red flags. You don’t have to hibernate for 40 weeks, but it’s a good idea to commit to these behavioral and health-related habits that can help with birth defects prevention.

Assess your prescriptions

Review your current prescriptions with your doctor and don’t take any new medications, including herbals and supplements, without confirming with your OB/GYN and pharmacist that they won’t harm your developing baby.

Live clean

Smoking is known to cause birth defects. No amount of alcohol has been proven baby-safe enough to drink during pregnancy. “Many women come to pregnancy with these and other habits to kick, so don’t feel like it’s a dirty little secret,” said Dr. Ken Ostermann, OB/GYN and urogynecologist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Just talk with your doctor about how to quit and what not to do during your pregnancy.”

Manage diabetes

Babies born to diabetic moms have a much higher risk of birth defects. If you have diabetes, it is best to have your blood sugars under good control before becoming pregnant. It is not uncommon to develop diabetes during pregnancy as well. In either case, there are lifestyle and medical changes you can make to reduce risk to your baby or to future pregnancies. Talking carefully with your doctor ahead of time will help avoid many diabetes related birth defects.

Be careful with meats

Undercooked meat can carry Listeria, which can lead to miscarriage and stillborn births. Babies born to moms with Listeriosis can experience serious birth defects, such as blood infections or organ lesions. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that also can lurk in undercooked meats. It’s linked to birth defects ranging from hearing loss to mental retardation.

Ostermann advises cooking meats thoroughly, and always erring on the side of caution with anything at the deli counter (meat or not).

He also recommends caution with certain types of fish. “In general, women may eat 8 to 12 ounces of fish per week,” Ostermann said. “However large fish in particular tend to concentrate mercury which may be harmful to your baby.”

Examples of fish to avoid include:

  • king mackeral
  • marlin
  • orange roughy
  • shark
  • swordfish
  • tile fish
  • big eye tuna

Most local fish in Wisconsin are considered safe. However, discuss with your physician if you are not sure.

Let someone else clean the cat litter

Toxoplasma lurks in the feces of some infected cats. Pregnant women have reduced immunity, making them more vulnerable. Letting someone else pull scoop duty can help with birth defects prevention.

Use garden gloves

Toxoplasma can even be in soil. Better to use gloves than to try to scrub the dirt off (and out from under nails).

Wash your hands

Scrubbing your hands can fend off a slew of potential hazards to your unborn baby, most notably—you guessed it—toxoplasmosis but also things like Hepatitis and flu virus.

Wash your fruits and veggies

Harmful bacteria linked to birth defects are also found on some fruits and veggies if they’ve touched manure. Wash but don’t avoid them—they’re good for a pregnant mom’s diet!

Take your folic acid

“Get your recommended 400 mcg of folic acid every day,” Ostermann said. “It can help prevent two serious birth defects: anencephaly and spina bifida.”

Consider travel carefully

Even if you’re not pregnant yet, but you plan to be, thoroughly research your travel destination before you go. Zika and other contagious viruses in some regions can pose significant health risks to your unborn baby.

Stay on track with vaccinations

Being up-to-date on current vaccination recommendations can help keep your baby safe. Certain infections that can be prevented with vaccines may cause serious birth defects. Rubella is a common example.

Know your family history

Have knowledge of your family’s history of birth defects and medical problems and convey that information to your physician.

Don’t miss doctor appointments

Your doctor will help you to remember all of the above birth defects prevention tips and stay on track. Not all are preventable, but you can significantly reduce your risk.

Ready to start your pregnancy on the right track? Request an appointment with your women’s health doctor and medical team today. We’ll show you more ways you can prevent birth defects and enjoy your pregnancy journey.

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