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For Release: Jan. 14, 2014 – Pamela Williams, Office of Communications – 405/271-5601

Healthy Lifestyle Choices and Medical Interventions Can Help Reduce the Risk of Birth Defects                                         

Birth defects are the most common cause of death in infants and the second most common cause of death in children ages 1 to 4 years. More than 120,000 babies are born with a birth defect in the U.S. each year, or about 1 in 33 live births. Of those, about 2,000 cases are in Oklahoma.

While these statistics are somber, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) notes that the risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices and medical interventions before and during pregnancy. The OSDH works with healthcare professionals and other public health agencies around the state to encourage prevention and awareness of birth defects. In addition to its efforts in prevention, OSDH offers support to families who are dealing with the realities of a child born with birth defects. 

The kinds of birth defects vary and include congenital heart defects, cleft lip or palate, defects of brain and spine, and a variety of genetic syndromes such as Down syndrome. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby’s health and some have life-threatening and/or life-long effects. Public awareness, accurate and early diagnosis, expert medical care, and social support systems are all essential for prevention and treatment of these all-too-common and often deadly conditions.

“Most people are unaware of how widespread, costly and critical birth defects are, or that there are simple steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of birth defects,” said Sharon Vaz, director of OSDH Screening and Special Services. “Diet, lifestyle choices, factors in the environment, health conditions and medications before and during pregnancy all can play a role in preventing or increasing the risk of birth defects.”

Studies have demonstrated several important steps women can take to help prevent birth defects. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are advised to:

  • Take 400 mcg of folic acid daily from the beginning of menstruation through menopause.
  • Eat a healthy diet and aim for a healthy weight.
  • Get a medical checkup before pregnancy and address specific health issues including weight control, control of diabetes, and any medications taken.
  • Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Stop drinking alcohol prior to pregnancy.
  • Do not take illegal drugs.
  • Know your family medical history and potential genetic risks.

Additional information on preventing birth defects can be found at www.obdr.health.ok.gov. For more information about having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, view the “Preparing for a Lifetime, It’s Everyone’s Responsibility” public education campaign on the OSDH website at http://iio.health.ok.gov

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