Battling birth defects

It’s a new year and a time many people are making resolutions. Quitting smoking is high on the list for a lot of people.

It should be a priority for women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. One in seven women in Lyon County admits to smoking while pregnant. That’s putting their babies at risk for premature birth and birth defects.

In January, March of Dimes raises awareness about birth defects and ways to prevent them. Every four-and-a-half minutes, a baby is born in the United States with a major birth defect. These conditions are common, costly and critical.

In fact, birth defects are a leading cause of death in the first year of life. And, for affected babies who survive and live with these conditions, birth defects increase the risk for long-term disabilities. Birth defects not only impact babies born with these conditions; they also have an emotional and financial impact on their families and communities.

The good news is that we’ve learned a lot about what might increase the risk for birth defects.

For example, we know that taking certain medications, having uncontrolled diabetes, smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk for birth defects. We also know that taking a daily multivitamin containing the B vitamin folic acid is one of the best ways to prevent birth defects and an important step toward having a healthy baby, yet only about one-third of women know about it.

March of Dimes wants all women of child-bearing age to know of the important role folic acid plays in preventing serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs), which include spina bifida and anencephaly. Daily consumption of folic acid beginning before and continuing through the early months of pregnancy is crucial because NTDs occur in the first few weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

The March of Dimes has worked to spread the word about the importance of folic acid and helped bring about folic acid fortification of the grain and cereal supply.

Today, the March of Dimes and its partners are petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fortify corn masa flour with this important B vitamin because NTDs are more prevalent in the Hispanic population than other racial or ethnic groups.

Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid. Your baby will thank you.