How do I Prevent Birth Defects?

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  • Written By: Lindsay Kahl
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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A birth defect is defined as an abnormality in structure, function or metabolism that is present at the baby’s birth. Birth defects can be the result of genetic, environmental or unknown factors. Though not all problems can be avoided, expectant mothers or women who are planning to become pregnant can take certain steps to lower their risks and possibly prevent birth defects. You should get early and regular prenatal care, maintain a healthy diet, take prenatal vitamins and take folic acid prior to conception. When youo are expecting, you also should avoid the use of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine and exposure to environmental toxins.

Most birth defects occur during the first three months of a woman’s pregnancy, so it is crucial to receive early care. If you are trying to conceive, you should consider a preconception visit to your doctor to discuss your medical and family history. If you have a preexisting condition, such as diabetes, obesity or epilepsy, you also can discuss special considerations. A doctor might recommend adjusting medication levels for treatment of a condition during a your pregnancy. You should talk about all medications and dietary supplements with your physician to ensure that they are safe for an unborn baby.


You should begin taking folic acid supplements before you even are pregnant. It is recommended that women take 400 milligrams of folic acid every day before becoming pregnant and through the first trimester. Folic acid can prevent birth defects related to the spine and brain.

Pregnant women should maintain a healthy lifestyle, including regular prenatal care to track their well-being and the health of their babies. In addition to folic acid, pregnant women should take prenatal vitamins and eat a healthy diet. You should try to get adequate rest and engage in moderate exercise with the approval of your doctor. By taking care of yourself and your health, you can help prevent birth defects for her child.

Expectant mothers should avoid drinking any alcohol. If a pregnant woman drinks, the substance passes through the placenta and her child could be born with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. These disorders can cause growth deficiency and damage to the central nervous system, leading to cognitive, behavioral and motor problems. No amount of alcohol is safe, so you should abstain completely during pregnancy.

Pregnant women should avoid using drugs or smoking cigarettes. Substances such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin and ecstasy pass easily through the bloodstream to the unborn baby and can cause numerous birth defects. Cigarette smoking can reduce the amount of oxygen available to the baby and possibly lead to cleft palates, limb defects, some types of heart problems and other birth defects.

Expectant mothers also should avoid or limit caffeine use. Experts disagree on what is an acceptable amount of caffeine for a pregnant woman. Many women choose to abstain from caffeine completely during pregnancy in order to be safe.

Pregnant women should avoid exposure to environmental toxins and germs. Expectant mothers should stay away from cat litter boxes, raw meat and household chemicals in items such as cleaning products. Women should also avoid certain vaccines while pregnant, if possible.

In some cases, you might do everything possible to prevent birth defects, and a problem could still occur. Many factors that contribute to birth defects are unknown. You can only do your best to support the healthy development of your baby.


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