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Birth Defect Prevention

National Birth Defect Awareness Month - January 2022

View the 2022 National Birth Defects Awareness Month Resource.

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The Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) is joining with leading prenatal health organizations during National Birth Defects Prevention Month in January to increase awareness of five critical tips to reduce the chances of having a baby with a birth defect.

About 1 in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect in the United States. Most birth defects occur in the first three months of pregnancy. This is an important time when tissues are forming in the womb. Birth defects range in severity, and the earlier some birth defects are found, the better chance a baby has of living a long and healthy life.

Birth defects are the second leading cause of infant deaths in Indiana. Approximately 2,500 Indiana babies are born with birth defects each year. Reducing Indiana’s infant mortality rate is a top priority for IDOH and Governor Holcomb, who has set a goal of having the lowest infant mortality rate in the Midwest by 2024. Congenital malformations, such as cardiovascular, chromosomal, central nervous system and musculoskeletal defects, contributed to about one in five infant deaths in Indiana in 2018.

Make a P.A.C.T. to reduce the risk of birth defects

There are steps to take before and during pregnancy that can reduce the risk of having a baby with a birth defect:

Plan ahead: see your doctor regularly and take folic acid

Avoid harmful substances: don’t drink alcohol, smoke or take drugs and avoid animal droppings, unpasteurized milk products, sick people and insects that carry disease, such as mosquitos

Choose a healthy lifestyle: maintain a healthy weight and keep chronic health conditions in control

Talk to your healthcare provider: start prenatal care as soon as you think you might be pregnant

Folic Acid Before, During and After Pregnancy!

Folic acid is a B vitamin that, when taken before and during pregnancy, has been proven to prevent serious birth defects such as spina bifida. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented if women took folic acid. Current research also indicates that folic acid may help prevent heart disease, stroke, and some forms of cancer.

Why take folic acid?

We know that taking 400 micrograms of folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida, by up to 70 percent. Emerging research also shows that folic acid may reduce the risk of birth defects, such as cleft lip, cleft palate, and heart defects. The risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and colon, cervical and breast cancer may be reduced by taking folic acid. The preliminary research findings are exciting, and we believe that taking adequate amounts of folic acid can be beneficial for men and women of all ages.

What are neural tube birth defects?

Neural tube defects are a group of serious birth defects that occur very early in pregnancy, before most women even know that they are expecting. When the neural tube, which is part of the brain and spinal cord, doesn’t grow properly, a baby is born with a neural tube defect. Children born with neural tube defects, which are among the most common birth defects in the United States, usually need life-long medical treatment.

Spina bifida and anencephaly are the most common neural tube defects, which are defects of the brain and spine. Children born with spina bifida may have difficulty walking, and experience bladder and bowel problems and/or other serious health complications. Anencephaly, a fatal neural tube defect, occurs when a baby is born with a severely underdeveloped brain and skull.

Who should take folic acid?

We encourage everyone to take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, especially females of childbearing age. Statistics show that 50 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned so if there is any chance that you could become pregnant, you need to take folic acid every day.

How much folic acid should be taken?

You need 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. To get enough folic acid every day you should take a daily multivitamin or supplement and eat a variety of foods as part of a healthy diet.

Women who have had a baby with a neural tube defect (NTD) should talk to their doctor about the increased risk of their next child having an NTD. Due to this increased risk, women who have had a child with an NTD are recommended to take an increased dose of folic acid. Always talk to your doctor first before increasing your dosage.

Recommended Daily Amounts of Folic Acid

  • Adult Men and Adult Women (14-years and older) = 400 mcg every day
  • Women who have had a previously affected pregnancy = 4000 mcg every day

What are the various sources of folic acid?

Synthetic, or man-made, folic acid is found in multi-vitamins, supplements and fortified foods. Some cereals are fortified with 100 percent folic acid per serving. Check the nutrition labels to find out how much folic acid your cereal contains.

Our bodies actually absorb the synthetic form of folic acid more easily than naturally occurring folate. Folate occurs naturally in leafy green vegetables, beans and grains. The amount of folic acid in these products varies widely and can be affected by processing and cooking, making it difficult to know if you are getting enough folic acid every day. An easy way to be sure you are getting enough folic acid everyday is to take a multivitamin, a folic acid supplement or eat cereals fortified with 100 percent folic acid per serving.