By Heather Bennett
Getting the news that you’re pregnant can be wonderful, yet scary. There’s a roller coaster of feelings that can come with it, excitement, fear, happiness and anxiety. Parents to be all want to do what’s best for their baby before and after it enters the world. Genetics isn’t something we can control, but there are precautions we can take to prevent birth defects.
The Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center outreach and prevention team wants to bring awareness to this topic and shed light on how our environment, drug and alcohol use can have an effect on our unborn children, and how it can impact the community.
A baby is born every 4.5 minutes with a birth defect. Babies impacted by birth defects are 1 in 33, or 120,000 a year. Twenty percent of infant deaths are caused my birth defects annually. A variety of things can cause birth defects. Genetics can be one factor, but our behavior and environment can also have an impact. As a parent to be you can help minimize the impact of birth defects of your unborn child and possibly prevent them.
Birth defects can be functional or structural. Structural defects can be more physically noticeable and have to do with the development and structure of the body such as missing or misshaped heart valves, spina bifida, Down syndrome, cleft palate or clubfoot. Functional birth defects are related to the systems of the body such as immune, endocrine and neurological systems. These types of birth defects include blindness, deafness, Rett Syndrome, Autism, autoimmune disease, ADD and ADHD.
Many babies born with some of these defects can grow up to live full, healthy adult lives, but some can cause severe and long lasting health issues. While birth defects can be common, it is important to be proactive in preventing them and minimizing risk by taking the proper precautions.
Some great practices are to follow a proper hygiene regiment, avoid insect bites, such as mosquitos (who can carry viruses like West Nile or Zika), and get vaccinated against the flu and whooping cough. Expecting mothers should also speak to their doctors about family health history and reproductive healthcare.
Mothers to be should also avoid drugs and alcohol. The use of these substances can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and neonatal abstinence syndrome. While these are not birth defects, they can lead to premature birth, learning disabilities, speech or language delays, low birth weight, poor memory, poor judgment skills and hyperactive behavior. Drug use during pregnancy can lead a baby to experience withdrawal symptoms when they are born.
While we strive to do what is best for our children while they are still developing in the womb, sometimes even our best efforts can’t stop us from having a child with a birth defect. All we can do is try, and when our child is born, love and accept them for who they are, and educate ourselves on how we can best care for them going forward.
If you would like more information on The Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center you can visit their site at www.eccac.org. If you are interested in learning more about birth defects you can visit www.birthdefects.org.
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