Health experts emphasize five effective ways to prevent birth defects

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Health experts emphasize five effective ways to prevent birth defects

BISMARCK, N.D. January is Birth Defects Prevention Month and the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) is joining with leading prenatal health experts from the National Birth Defects Prevention Network, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, Teratology Society, and Mother To Baby, to increase awareness and emphasize five ways to prevent birth defects.

Every four and a half minutes a baby in the United States is born with a birth defect. In North Dakota, approximately 112 birth defects were reported in 2018.   

“Birth defects are a common cause of death in the first year of a baby’s life, but change happens through awareness and action,” added Devaiah Muccatira, research analyst for the NDDoH. “While we can’t prevent all birth defects, taking action in a few areas increases a woman’s chance of having a healthy baby.”  

  • Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day - Folic acid can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.
  • Visit with your health care provider before stopping or starting any medicine - There are often benefits to continuing treatment throughout pregnancy. Discussing a treatment plan before a pregnancy allows a woman and her health care provider to weigh the pros and cons of all options to keep mom and baby as healthy as possible.
  • Be up to date on your vaccinations, including the flu shot - Having the right vaccinations, like the flu and Tdap vaccines, at the right time during pregnancy can help keep a woman and her baby healthy.
  • Reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant - Obesity increases the risk for several serious birth defects and other pregnancy complications.
  • Avoid harmful substances during pregnancy, such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
    • No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy; exposure can cause major birth defects.
    • Smoking during pregnancy can cause dangerous chemicals to damage the placenta and/or reach baby’s bloodstream.
    • The opioid epidemic has led to a sharp increase in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, premature birth and drug withdrawal in developing babies.

The NDDoH Division of Special Health Services offers services for children with birth defects. For more information about services available, visit or contact Devaiah Muccatira, NDDoH, at 701-328-4963.

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