Preventing Birth Defects

Though medical knowledge continues to advance, there are still a large percentage of U.S. babies born with preventable birth defects. Each year, 31% of pregnant women have complications, 12% of their newborns are born too early, 8% are underweight at birth, and 3% are born with major birth defects.

Appalling Birth Defect Statistics

In spite of these appalling statistics, women of childbearing age continue to engage in behaviors that could endanger a pregnancy. For instance, 10% of expectant mothers imbibe alcohol, 11% smoke cigarettes, 3% use prescription or over-the-counter medicines with known links to birth defects, 4% have health problems that can have a deleterious effect on pregnancy if left uncontrolled (for instance diabetes), 31% are too heavy, and 69% don't bother to take folic acid, a vitamin that has been proven to prevent neural tube defects in babies.

Looming Birth Defect Tragedy

All of these activities and conditions pose major risks to pregnancy but changing your lifestyle habits and getting good preconception and prenatal care may turn the tide from looming tragedy to healthy happy moms and babies. But the changes have to be made before the damage occurs. That's why preconception care may be even more important than prenatal care.

In the U.S. women tend to begin getting prenatal care only from the 11th to the 12th week of pregnancy. Yet the most dangerous time in their baby's development occurs in the 4th-10th week of gestation. This window of vulnerability is the time when the worst irreversible birth defects may occur. But most women haven't even realized they're pregnant at that early point.

Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are now urging all women to undergo preconception counseling. During the course of the preconception care and counseling sessions, women are taught, prior to the time they might conceive, to steer clear of activities that might harm a potential fetus. The CDC believes that preconception care is crucial as a means of addressing the improvement of health in our nation.

To that end, an initiative called Healthy People 2000 is working toward increasing the number of primary care doctors who have the qualifications for offering preconception care. As of today, only one in four health care providers can offer this service. Healthy People 2000 hope to raise this number to 60%.

For now, preconception care is an idea still new and fresh. But doctors think that once this service becomes a standard part of the basket of health services offered by physicians and covered by insurance, fewer babies will be born with birth defects. This is the ultimate goal of the CDC.

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