January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month

About 1 in 33 babies in the U.S. is born with a birth defect each year

Birth defects are structural changes that affect one or more parts of the body (e.g. heart, brain, foot). Common birth defects include congenital heart defects, cleft lip and left palate and spina bifida.

How Birth Defects Happen

Your genetics, behaviors and social and environmental factors can impact the risk for birth defects, and not all birth defects can be prevented. However, there are things you can do to increase your chance of having a healthy, fully-term pregnancy and baby – and National Birth Defects Prevention Month is the perfect time to learn about them.

Quick Facts:

  • Every 4 ½ minutes a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States.
  • About 120,000 babies (1 in 33) in the U.S. are born each year with birth defects.
  • Birth defects are the leading cause of death in the first year of life.
  • There are many different types of birth defects. The most common are heart defects, neural tube defects, and oro-facial clefts.
  • The cause is unknown in about 70% of birth defects.
how birth defects happen

Increase Your Chance of Having a Healthy, Full Term Baby

While all birth defects can’t be prevented, a woman can take the following steps to increase her own chance of having a healthy baby:


1. Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day

Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects in your baby. Eat foods that contain folate, such as lentils, green leafy vegetables, black beans and orange juice.


2. Get a pre-pregnancy checkup

See your health care provider to talk about managing your health conditions and creating a treatment plan before each pregnancy. Speak with them about all prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.


3. Stay up-to-date on vaccines

Speak with your health care provider about the vaccines you need during each pregnancy to help protect yourself and your baby against serious diseases. Get the flu shot before or during each pregnancy and get the whooping cough vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.


4. Reach a healthy weight before pregnancy

Being overweight or underweight can affect your fertility and during pregnancy obesity can increase the risk of having a baby with a birth defect and other complications. Talk to your health care provider about how to get to a healthy weight before getting pregnant.


5. Avoid substances that are harmful during pregnancy

Boost your health by avoiding substances that are harmful during pregnancy.

1. Do not drink alcohol. There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy.

2. Do not smoke. Smoking tobacco or marijuana during pregnancy can also harm the developing baby and can cause certain birth defects. Quitting smoking will help you feel better and provide a healthier environment for your baby.

3. No Opioids. The opioid addiction epidemic has led to a sharp increase in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), premature birth, and drug withdrawal in developing babies.


Prevent Birth Defects in 2021 

The March of Dimes put together this video to help you plan for a healthy pregnancy and baby.