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FOR RELEASE: January 20, 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Education and Awareness Help Reduce Birth Defects
January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

Although public health officials note some progress in decreasing the number of children born with preventable birth defects, about 1,800 babies continue to be born with birth defects each year in Oklahoma.

Preliminary data indicate that since 1994, Oklahoma has reduced by 45 percent the number of neural tube defects (NTDs) occurring in newborns. NTDs include such conditions as spina bifida and anencephaly (missing brain). The risk for these conditions can be reduced when women of childbearing age take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid and eat foods fortified with folic acid.

“While we appreciate that these kinds of prevention strategies can help reduce the number of babies born with birth defects, we know there is much more work that needs to be done,” said Kay Pearson, coordinator of the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Birth Defects Registry.

“Treatment and care options for children born with a birth defect and public education about birth defects are all part of an ongoing effort we are highlighting this month, which is Birth Defects Prevention Month.”

The Birth Defects Registry monitors the numbers of babies born with birth defects and finds that the largest percentages of birth defects in Oklahoma are 30 percent cardiovascular, 24 percent musculoskeletal, 14 percent gastrointestinal, and nine percent central nervous system. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality.

One birth defect that is 100 percent preventable is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS is a set of physical and mental birth defects that lead to an irreversible, lifelong condition affecting every aspect of a child’s life and the lives of the child’s family. About 1 in 1,000 children born each year in the United States has FAS. Some researchers estimate that up to 10 times as many children are born each year with other prenatal alcohol-related conditions.

“FAS can occur when a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy. There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. Women should not drink alcohol when they are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or at risk of becoming pregnant,” Pearson said.

In keeping with Birth Defects Prevention Month, Pearson offered these steps that women can take to decrease their chance of having a baby born with a birth defect:

  • Every day, all women of childbearing age should take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms (400 mcg or 0.4 mg) of folic acid. Folic acid consumption reduces the risk of having a baby with spina bifida, anencephaly, and possibly other birth defects including cleft lip or palate and heart defects.
  • All women should be appropriately immunized. This especially applies to women born outside the United States who have not received rubella (measles) immunizations. Exposure in the first trimester of pregnancy results in congenital rubella syndrome that can cause serious heart, hearing and vision defects.
  • Women should not smoke, drink alcohol or use recreational drugs during pregnancy.
  • Women considering pregnancy should make an appointment, called a “preconception visit,” with their health care provider before stopping their method of birth control. This visit will allow the provider to review the woman’s genetic, medical, reproductive, nutrition and lifestyle risk factors. Any risk factor can be identified and eliminated or reduced before pregnancy is attempted to assure a woman enters pregnancy in the healthiest state possible.

For more information about preventing birth defects, contact Kay Pearson, Oklahoma State Department of Health, by calling toll-free 1-800-766-2223, or by emailing kayp@health.state.ok.us .

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