Birth defects are common, costly, and critical conditions that affect one in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. Every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States. That means nearly 120,000 babies are affected by birth defects each year.
There is no known cure or standard treatment for anencephaly. Almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth (Mai, Isenburg, Canfield, Meyer, Correa, Alverson, et al., National population‐based estimates for major birth defects, 2010–2014. Birth Defects Research. 2019)
The use of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs during pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of birth defects, but the evidence remains inconclusive. Of the results of 806 infants included in the study, 32 (4.0%) had at least one major birth defect, most (44%) in the cardiac system Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Update on Overall Prevalence of Major Birth Defects–Atlanta, Georgia, 1978-2005).
Birth Defects Are Common
Spina bifida, which literally means “cleft spine,” is characterised by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or meninges (the protective covering around the brain and spinal cord). It is the most common neural tube defect in the United States—affecting 1,500 to 2,000 of the more than four million babies born in the country each year (National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities).
Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial and oral malformations that occur very early in pregnancy, while the baby is developing inside the mother. Clefting results when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area and the tissue that is available does not join together properly. A cleft lip is a physical split or separation of the two sides of the upper lip and appears as a narrow opening or gap in the skin of the upper lip. This separation often extends beyond the base of the nose and includes the bones of the upper jaw and/or upper gum. The above anomalies are possibly the most horrible at birth, but they have a 100% prognosis.
Healthy Choices to Help Prevent Birth Defects
Not all birth defects can be prevented, but we also know that women can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by managing health conditions and adopting healthy behaviors when planning to become pregnant; plan ahead, avoid harmful substances, choose a healthy lifestyle, and talk with your healthcare provider.
- Ask your doctor to prescribe 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is a B vitamin. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body at least one month before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the developing brain and spine (anencephaly and spina bifida). Women can get folic acid from fortified foods or supplements, or a combination of the two, in addition to a varied diet rich in folate.
- See a healthcare professional regularly. A woman should be sure to see her doctor when planning a pregnancy and start prenatal care as soon as she thinks that she is pregnant. It is important to see the doctor regularly throughout pregnancy, so a woman should keep all her prenatal care appointments. If you are trying to have a baby or are just thinking about it, it is not too early to start getting ready for pregnancy. Use these checklists to help you write down your goals, whether you are planning a pregnancyor trying to get and stay healthy overall.
- Avoid alcohol at any time during pregnancy.Alcohol in a woman’s bloodstream passes to the developing baby through the umbilical cord. There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including wine and beer. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral disabilities. These disabilities in the child, which occur because the mother drank alcohol during the pregnancy, are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). The best advice for women is to stop drinking alcohol when trying to get pregnant.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes. The dangers of smoking during pregnancy include preterm birth, certain birth defects (cleft lip or cleft palate) infant death.
- Avoid marijuana and other drugs.A woman who uses marijuana or other drugs during pregnancy can have a baby who is born preterm, of low birth weight, or has other health problems, such as birth defects. Marijuana is the illicit drug most commonly used during pregnancy. Since we know of no safe level of marijuana use during pregnancy, women who are pregnant, or considering becoming pregnant, should not use marijuana, even in states where marijuana is legal (Kerr, Parker, Mitchell, Tinker, Werler. Periconceptional maternal fever, folic acid intake, and the risk for neural tube defects.
Annals of epidemiology. 2017;27(12):777-782.e771).