Birth Defects Prevention

January 2021 is Birth Defects Prevention Month
Best for You. Best for Baby.

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month. The theme for 2021 is “Best for You. Best for Baby.” We know that not all birth defects can be prevented. But, you can increase your chances of having a healthy baby by doing what you can to be your healthiest self both before and during pregnancy. What is best for you is also best for your baby.

National Birth Defects Prevention Month 2021 Toolkit

5 Tips for Preventing Birth Defects:

Eat healthy and get your folic acid!Tip 1: Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.

Folic acid is very important because it can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine. Our bodies use this B vitamin to make new cells. Folate is found naturally in certain fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Folic acid is found in fortified foods (called “enriched foods”), such as breads, pastas, and cereals. In addition to eating foods with folate from a varied diet (including foods like spinach and avocado), you can:

  • Take a vitamin that has folic acid in it every day
    • Vitamins can be found at most local pharmacies and grocery stores. Check the label on the bottle to be sure it contains 100% of the daily value (DV) of folic acid, which is 400mcg.
    • Most vitamins sold in the United States have the recommended amount of folic acid women need each day.
  • Eat fortified foods
    • You can find folic acid in some breads, pasta, breakfast cereals, and corn masaflour.
    • Be sure to check the nutrition facts label and look for one that has “100%” next to folate.

Tip 2: Book a visit with your healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medicine.Meet with your medical provider!

Many women need to take medicine to stay healthy, and there are often benefits to continuing your treatment throughout your pregnancy. If you are trying to have a baby or are just thinking about it, now is a great time to start getting ready for pregnancy by talking with your doctor about medications you may be taking.

Women who are already pregnant or think that they could be pregnant should also see their healthcare providers. Start prenatal care right away. It is important to see your healthcare provider regularly throughout pregnancy. So be sure to keep all prenatal care appointments.

If you’re concerned about going to your appointments because of COVID-19, ask your healthcare provider what steps they’re taking to separate healthy patients from those who may be sick. Some healthcare providers may choose to cancel or postpone some visits. Others may switch certain appointments to telemedicine visits, which are appointments over the phone or video. These decisions may be based on the situation in your community as well as your individual health risks.

Tip 3: Become up-to-date with all vaccines, including the flu shot.Get vaccinated!

Vaccines help protect you and your baby. Some vaccinations, such as the flu (influenza) vaccine and the Tdap vaccine (adult tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis vaccine), are specifically recommended during each pregnancy. Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep you and your baby healthy. Get a flu shot and Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy to help protect yourself and your baby.

Flu: You can get the flu shot before or during each pregnancy. Pregnant women with flu have an increased risk of serious problems for their pregnancy, including preterm birth. Getting a flu shot is the first and most important step in protecting against flu. The flu shot given during pregnancy has been shown to protect both mom and baby (for up to 6 months after delivery) from the flu.

Tdap: You should get the Tdap vaccine near the end of each pregnancy (weeks 27 – 36). After getting the shot, your body will make protective antibodies (proteins made by the body to fight off diseases) and will pass some of the antibodies to your baby before birth. These antibodies give your baby some short-term protection against whooping cough (also called pertussis). These antibodies can also protect your baby from some of the more serious complications of whooping cough. Partners/spouses and other family members who live in the home or will be helping to take care of a new baby should also receive the Tdap vaccine before the baby is born.

Tip 4: Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight.Keep a healthy weight!

Your weight may increase your risk for several serious birth defects and other pregnancy complications. If you are underweight, overweight, or obese, talk with your healthcare provider about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight before you get pregnant. Eating healthy foods and being physically active are great ways to prepare for pregnancy.

One size does not fit all. During pregnancy, follow the guidelines for weight gain that match your weight before pregnancy. Talk to your provider about making physical activity a part of healthy pregnancy.

Tip 5: Boost your health by avoiding harmful substances during pregnancy, such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.Avoid harmful substances!

Alcohol: There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. A developing baby can be exposed to the same level of alcohol as the mother during pregnancy This can result in a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. In addition, alcohol may make it harder for a woman to become pregnant. Alcohol use in pregnancy can also increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Alcohol can have negative effects on a baby’s development at any time during pregnancy, including before a woman even knows she is pregnant. That is why it is important to stop drinking alcohol when you start trying to get pregnant.

Tobacco: Smoking during pregnancy can harm the placenta and a developing baby and can cause certain birth defects. The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. When you smoke during pregnancy, chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar damage the placenta and/or pass through the placenta and umbilical cord to reach your baby’s bloodstream. Quitting smoking will help you feel better and provide a healthier environment for your baby.

Other Drugs: Using certain drugs during pregnancy can cause health problems for a woman and her developing baby. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant and can’t stop using drugs―please ask for help! A healthcare provider can help you with counseling, treatment, and other support services.

More information

MDHHS Birth Defects Education and Outreach Program 

Birth Defects

Best for You. Best For Baby. Tips to Share

Healthy Pregnancy

Treating for Two: Medicines and Pregnancy

Alcohol Use in Pregnancy

Tobacco Use and Pregnancy

Frequently Asked Questions about Folic Acid

NHBLI Sickle Cell Guidelines

healthy baby pamphletMore Prevention Resources

Resources are available through the Michigan Birth Defects Prevention Program and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN). Please share these resources to help reach millions of women and decrease their risk for birth defects. (Resources in English, Spanish and Arabic.)

2020 Birth Defects Prevention Month ToolKit

2019 Birth Defects Prevention Month ToolKit

2018 Prevent to Protect Infographic in Spanish

Michigan Birth Defects Prevention Program

Health & Nutrition Information for Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women – Great for tracking healthy habits!

Past NBDPN Resources