National Birth Defects Prevention Month: Birth Defects Take Toll on Families
In Los Angeles County, about 4,600 babies are born with birth defects each year -- a rate of one in 33 births, according to the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program. The most prevalent cases in L.A. County include heart abnormalities, Down syndrome, cleft lip and palate, spina bifida and other neural tube defects, missing or malformed limbs and mental retardation. Over a lifetime, medical and special education costs for a child suffering from a birth defect can exceed $500,000.
While many can be treated or cured, birth defects are leading cause of death in the first year of life. A birth defect may occur even if there is no family history or if parents have had healthy children in the past. However, there are steps expectant parents can take to help ensure a healthy baby. As part of this January's National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the March of Dimes is reminding women of child-bearing age of the important role folic acid plays in preventing birth defects.
"Folic acid is the most important vitamin women can take to help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine, and it's imperative that they start taking it before they get pregnant and continue to take it after," said Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health.
A recent March of Dimes survey revealed that only 28 percent of women of childbearing age knew folic acid can prevent birth defects, and only 11 percent knew folic acid should be consumed prior to pregnancy.
Other steps expectant mothers can take during pregnancy: keeping vaccinations up to date, avoiding unnecessary medications, not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke, staying away from alcohol and other drugs, eating a healthy diet and taking prenatal vitamins, and exercising and getting early and regular prenatal care.
For more information about preventing birth defects, visit www.marchofdimes.com or call the California chapter at (415) 788-2202. In addition, the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program's Web site, www.cbdmp.org, features birth defects resources, including links to support groups.
Related Topics: Disabilities
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