Raising Awareness for Birth Defects

National Birth Defects Prevention Month raises awareness of birth defects, their causes and impact

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. And this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is inviting women and their families to make a PACT to prevent birth defects.

What's the PACT? According to the CDC, it's a way for women to lower their risk of giving birth to a child with a birth defect — all by making healthy choices both before and during pregnancy. By making this PACT, women can also lower their risk of other pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage, preterm birth and stillbirth, the CDC says.

P.A.C.T. stands for Plan ahead, Avoid harmful substances, Choose a healthy lifestyle, and Talk to your health care provider.

Although the cause of most birth defects is unknown, the use of some substances and medicines and exposure to some chemicals and infectious diseases during pregnancy have been linked to an increased risk.

A woman should take these steps both before and during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects, according to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN). She should take folic acid; get regular checkups; make sure any medical conditions she has are under control; be tested for infectious diseases and get any necessary vaccinations; eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly; and not use cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs.

Folic acid helps a baby’s brain and spine develop in the first month of pregnancy when a woman might not know she's pregnant.

January is also a time to recognize those currently living with birth defects and raise awareness for their common, costly and sometimes preventable conditions. According to the NBDPN, birth defects affect about 1 in 33 babies every year and cause about 1 in 5 infant deaths.

Birth defects are abnormal conditions that develop before or at the time of birth. Some are minor, such as an extra finger or toe. Others are serious, such as a heart defect.

For many babies born with a birth defect, there is no family history of the condition. Many birth defects are also not found immediately at birth. A birth defect can affect how the body looks, how it works or both. Some birth defects like cleft lip or spina bifida are easy to see. Others are not.

Thanks to recent medical advancements, children born with birth defects are living longer than ever before. But these children often need specialized treatment, continued care and strong support systems throughout their lives.

That's why raising awareness is so important.

What can you do to help? The CDC is inviting people to share their birth defect stories on social media by tagging #1in33. People can also share how they are living their PACT for a healthy baby now or sometime in the future by tagging #LivingMyPACT.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 12, 2016
Last Updated:
January 13, 2016