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FOR RELEASE: January 10, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

In Oklahoma, approximately 150 babies are born with birth defects every month. January is Birth Defects Prevention Month and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is concerned that not enough women know what they can do to increase their chances of having a healthy baby and preventing birth defects.

The U.S. Public Health Services recommends that all women of childbearing age (14 to 50) consume 400 micrograms (400 mcg or 0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid, a B-vitamin, taken before pregnancy and in the early weeks of pregnancy, can reduce a woman’s risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect. In the U.S., neural tube defects affect an estimated 4,000 pregnancies each year. The most common of these defects is spina bifida, the leading cause of childhood paralysis. Babies with anencephaly are stillborn or die within a few hours of birth.

The best prevention is for women to consume the recommended amount of folic acid. OSDH experts advise women to take a multivitamin or folic acid pill every day and eat foods that are rich in folate. It is difficult to get enough folic acid from foods without supplementing a woman’s diet with multivitamins or folic acid pills. Certain breakfast cereals are now fortified with folic acid, as are enriched grains and pastas.

Although this recommendation was made almost 10 years ago, many women still are not aware of the role of folic acid in the prevention of spina bifida and anencephaly. Recent surveys by the March of Dimes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that while most of the women surveyed reported that they had heard of folic acid, fewer than 25 percent knew that folic acid helps to prevent birth defects, and less that 20 percent knew that they should take it before pregnancy.

Other birth defects and infant health problems are preventable because they are associated with behaviors such as smoking, substance abuse, and poor nutrition. Fetal alcohol syndrome, one of the leading causes of mental retardation, is 100 percent preventable.

Public health efforts to prevent neural tube defects and provide information and education include “Ready -Not”, a folic acid campaign by the Oklahoma Coalition on Folic Acid. For more information about birth defects prevention, contact Kay Pearson at (405) 271-6617.

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