Past Awareness Months
On this page:
The following list of health observances details topics that are of particular relevance for prevention and management of birth defects. For a list of all national health observances, please see: http://www.healthfinder.gov/nho/nho.asp.
Attention: Some links listed below take you outside the Minnesota Department of Health Website. MDH can only link to websites related to copyrighted materials. In most cases, the link will remain valid, however, in some cases the link will change without MDH's knowledge. MDH will make every attempt to link to active sites, but we cannot guarantee that the links referenced below will remain active.
- December 2011 Awareness: International Day of Persons with Disabilities
- November 2011 Awareness: Prematurity, Diabetes, Quit Smoking, American Indian/ Alaska Native Heritage, and National Family Caregivers, National Family History Day
- October 2011 Awareness: Spina Bifida, Down Syndrome, Children's Health, Prescriptions, Mental Health, Hispanic Heritage, SIDS, Food Day
- October 2010 Awareness: Spina Bifida
- January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and January 2-8, 2011, is National Folic Acid Awareness Week
- January is Birth Defects Prevention Month — January 2009
- Birth Defects Prevention Month — January 2008
- Folic Acid Awarenes Week — January 7-13, 2008
- January is Birth Defects Prevention Month — January 2007
- National Folic Acid Awareness Week — January 8-14, 2007
- October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month — October 2007
- Spina Bifida Awareness Month — October 2007
- National Folic Acid Awareness Week — January 9-15, 2006
- National Birth Defects Prevention Month — January 2006
- October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month — October 2006
- National Folic Acid Awareness Week — January 24-30, 2005
- January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month — January 2005
International Day of Persons with Disabilities 12/3/11
Children born with birth defects can grow up with a variety of special needs and possible disabilities. The United Nations commemorates all persons with disabilities (15% of the world’s population) on December 3rd. The theme for 2011 is "Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development."
- United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities: http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1561
- Minnesota Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (MCYSHN): http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/fh/mcshn/index.htm
Awareness Month: November 2011
Prematurity Awareness Month and World Prematurity Awareness Day (11/17):
One in eight babies are born prematurely in the U.S. “Worldwide, a million babies die each year because they are born too soon. Twelve million more struggle to survive. In the United States, premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death.” (Source: March of Dimes). Babies who are born prematurely can have a number of health problems, including birth defects. Morbidity and mortality from these birth defects can be much higher in preterm infants than in full term infants. (Sources include: CDC, March of Dimes).
- Minnesota Report Card on Premature Birth: http://www.marchofdimes.com/mapflashfilespad/reportcards/2011/english/MN.pdf
- Minnesota Prematurity Coalition: http://www.mnprematuritycoalition.org/
- Minnesota Task Force on Prematurity (legislation): http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/fh/mchatf/documents/prematurityTFstatute.pdf
- MCH Section at MDH: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/fh/mch/infant.html
- MN Chapter of March of Dimes: http://www.marchofdimes.com/minnesota/866_29264.asp
- March of Dimes: http://www.marchofdimes.com/mission/prematurity.html
- CDC Preterm Birth: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/PretermBirth.htm
- NLM Premature Babies: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/prematurebabies.html
- NICHHD/NIH Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/cdbpm/pp/
- Conditions related to prematurity in infants: http://www.nbdpn.org/docs/appendix3-4.pdf
- Understanding Prematurity and its Relation to Birth Defects: http://www.nbdpn.org/current/2008pdf/PrematuritySlides_2bw.pdf
American Diabetes Month
More than 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 6 youth in Minnesota have diabetes or pre-diabetes (Source: MN Diabetes Program). In Minnesota, 9.6% of resident women who had a live birth in MN in 2008 reported that they had gestational diabetes during their most recent pregnancy (Source: MN PRAMS). People with diabetes have high levels of glucose in their blood. This extra glucose can damage organs in a mother’s body as well as in her baby’s body. When diabetes is poorly controlled in pregnancy, “the risk for a baby to be born with birth defects is about 6-10%. For those with extremely poor control in the first trimester, there may be up to a 20% risk for birth defects” (SOURCE: OTIS Pregnancy). Some of the associated birth defects include neural tube defects (NTDs), heart defects, skeletal defects, and defects in the urinary, reproductive, and digestive systems. Additionally, these mothers and babies are at risk of other poor outcomes, such as pre-term birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, preeclampsia, increased birth weights, kidney disease, nerve damage, heart disease, or developing obesity or diabetes in the future. Keeping glucose levels at or near normal levels with diet, medication, and exercise before and during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of birth defects. It is important for women to talk to their doctors about blood sugar and diabetes. (Sources include: CDC, OTIS Pregnancy, MN PRAMS, MN Diabetes Program).
- American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org/in-my-community/programs/american-diabetes-month/
- American Diabetes Association of Minnesota: http://www.diabetesmn.com/
- MN Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS): http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/cfh/prams/
- Minnesota Diabetes Program: http://www.health.state.mn.us/diabetes/
- CDC Diabetes and Pregnancy: http://www.cdc.gov/Features/DiabetesPregnancy/
- CDC Diabetes Feature: http://www.cdc.gov/Features/LivingWithDiabetes/
- CDC Diabetes and Women’s Health: http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/consumer/groups.htm
- National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) “It’s Never Too Early to Prevent Diabetes”: http://ndep.nih.gov/publications/PublicationDetail.aspx?PubId=93
- OTIS Pregnancy, Diabetes and Pregnancy: http://www.otispregnancy.org/files/diabetes.pdf
- March of Dimes, preexisting diabetes: http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/complications_diabetes.html
- March of Dimes, gestational diabetes: http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/complications_gestationaldiabetes.html
- increased risk for cleft lip and cleft palate,
- 20-70% increased risk of certain heart defects in infants (Source: Pediatrics 2/28/11), and
- increased risk for premature birth and low birth weight.
Other problems from maternal smoking during pregnancy can include problems with the placenta, risk of miscarriage, and increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (Source: CDC). It is important for reproductive-aged women who may become pregnant, and for women who are already pregnant, to quit smoking as soon as possible, and to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
- MDH Tobacco Prevention and Control: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/hpcd/tpc/
- CDC Tobacco Use and Pregnancy: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/tobaccousepregnancy/
- Smokefree Women:http://women.smokefree.gov/Default.aspx
- March of Dimes, Smoking during pregnancy: http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/alcohol_smoking.html
- ACS Great American Smokeout http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GreatAmericanSmokeout/
Native American and Alaskan Native Heritage Month
Birth defects can be the result of various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic health disparities, or can affect populations differently. Native populations can be disproportionately affected by some of the conditions that are risk factors for birth defects, such as diabetes and prenatal alcohol exposure. Other disparities exist in higher prevalence rates of infant mortality, and teenage pregnancy. Additionally, Native American populations experience certain birth defects, like cleft lip/palate, at higher rates than Caucasians. (Sources include March of Dimes, CDC).
- HHS Office of Minority Health: http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/templates/browse.aspx?lvl=2&lvlID=201
- MDH Office of Minority and Multicultural Health: http://www.health.state.mn.us/ommh/
- Resources for pregnant tribal women in MN: http://www.health.state.mn.us/wrtk/tribal.html
- Indian Affairs Council: http://www.indianaffairs.state.mn.us/index.html
- Indian Health Board MN: http://www.ihb-mpls.org/
- IHS MCH Portal: http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/index.cfm
- IHS Women’s Health: http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/W/index.cfm
- Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council: http://www.glitc.org/
- March of Dimes: http://www.marchofdimes.com/default.html
- CDC Minority Health November Observance: http://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/observances/AIAN.html
National Family Caregivers Month
Children born with birth defects can grow up with a variety of special needs. Family members and others become these kids’ strongest supporters and caregivers. November is the month to honor family members who show compassion and support for all people in need.
- National Family Caregivers Association: http://www.thefamilycaregiver.org/press_room/detail.cfm?num=168
- MN Children and Youth with Special Health Needs (MCYSHN): http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/fh/mcshn/
Each year since 2004, the Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day. Knowing your family health history is important for determining your risk of having a child with a birth defect and the best ways to prepare for or manage that risk.
- Surgeon General's Family Health History Initiative: http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/
October is National Spina Bifida Awareness Month
Acknowledged as one of the most common, permanently disabling birth defects seen in the United States, Spina Bifida is a neural tube defect (NTD) affecting 1 in every 2,500 babies born in the United States each year. Hispanic women are approximately two times more likely to give birth to a child with NTDs than non-Hispanic women. Spina Bifida occurs when the neural tube fails to form properly early in pregnancy. It has been shown that consuming folic acid daily before and during pregnancy can reduce the occurrence of spina bifida or other neural tube defects by up to 70%. Since spina bifida develops before many women know they are pregnant, it is important that all women of child-bearing age consume enough folic acid (information from sources listed below).
For more information about Spina Bifida, please see:
- Spina Bifida Association: http://www.spinabifidaassociation.org/
- CDC Spina Bifida page: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/spinabifida/
- March of Dimes Spina Bifida page: http://www.marchofdimes.com/birthdefects_spinabifida.html
- MDH BDMA Spina Bifida Awareness Month 2010: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/birthdefects/topics.html#sbam
October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month
Down syndrome occurs in 1 of 800-1000 live births and is the most common chromosomal condition. It is caused by a baby's cells having an extra 21st chromosome. The risk of a baby being born with Down syndrome increases with the mother's age (to about 1 in 100 live births at age 40). Still, the majority of babies with Down syndrome are born to women under 35 years. Other conditions are common in children with Down syndrome such as heart defects, vision problems, and hearing problems. In addition, children with Down syndrome have unique physical features such as a small head, widely spaced eyes, short neck, small hands, and are often short in stature. Although children with Down syndrome learn new skills more slowly than most other children, they will walk, talk, and develop many skills of independent living (Source: MDH condition fact sheet listed below)
For more information and resources about Down syndrome, please see:
- National Down Syndrome Society – http://www.ndss.org
- National Down Syndrome Congress – http://www.ndsccenter.org
- Down Syndrome Assocation of Minnesota – http://www.dsamn.org/home
- MedlinePlus - http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/downsyndrome.html
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) - http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/DownSyndrome.html
- Mayo Clinic - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/down-syndrome/DS00182
- MDH-Minnesota Children & Youth with Special Health Needs - http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/fh/mcshn/bd/down.htm
Other October Observances:
National Child Health Day
HRSA reminders of maternal and child health programs that help children lead healthy lives everyday.
Mental Illness Awareness Week
Mothers' mental health is important before, during, and after pregnancy. It is important to discuss mental health medications when planning a pregnancy.
Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic women have approximately two times the risk of delivering a baby with a neural tube defect than non-Hispanic women.
World Food Day
A healthy diet is important when planning a pregnancy in order to reduce risks associated with obesity and diabetes, and to ensure adequate nutrition for Mom and baby.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
Many babies with birth defects do not survive. Infant loss can be life-changing for many families.
Talk About Prescriptions Month
It is important to discuss medications with a health care provider when planning a pregnancy.
- Talk About Rx- http://www.talkaboutrx.org/rxmonth2011.jsp
Acknowledged as one of the most common, permanently disabling birth defects seen in the United States, spina bifida is a neural tube defect (NTD) affecting 1 in every 2,500 babies born in the United States each year. Minnesota's Birth Defects Information System (M-BDIS) identified 38 cases of spina bifida in babies born in Hennepin and Ramsey counties in 2006-2008.
The neural tube is what grows to become the brain and spinal cord in the developing baby. Spina bifida occurs when this neural tube fails to close completely in the first weeks of life, often before a woman knows that she is pregnant. This usually results in limited function or paralysis of the legs, inability to walk and other disabilities. More information about the condition can be found on the Spina Bifida Association website or the CDC Spina Bifida homepage.
It has been shown that consuming folic acid daily before and during pregnancy can reduce the occurrence of spina bifida or other neural tube defects by up to 70%. Since spina bifida develops before many women know they are pregnant, it is important that all women of child-bearing age obtain enough folic acid. For this reason, all enriched cereals and grain products in the U.S. are fortified with the B-vitamin folic acid. The occurrence of spina bifida and related conditions has dropped since fortification began about a decade ago. (Figure A)
Fortification alone is usually not sufficient. In addition to eating folic acid-fortified grains and cereals, taking a multivitamin with folic acid every day is another key way that women get the recommended amount of 400 mcg. And yet, only about a third of women of childbearing age are using daily multivitamins. Nationally, Latinas have higher rates of spina bifida-affected pregnancies. (Figure B) They also have lower awareness or knowledge about how folic acid protects against spina bifida than women of other race/ethnic groups, and lower consumption of folic acid than white non-Hispanic women.
Results from the Minnesota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) about folic acid supplementation in the preconception period mirror these national disparities. In 2008, just 34.6% of Minnesota women reported they followed the recommendation to take a multivitamin every day during the month before becoming pregnant. Among Hispanic mothers, the prevalence of vitamin use was even lower: just 20.3% reported taking a multivitamin every day during the month before pregnancy. In fact, about half (49.9%) of all women and over two-thirds (67.5%) of Hispanic women in Minnesota who gave birth in 2008 reported they didn't take a multivitamin at all in the month before becoming pregnant. It is important that women take folic acid before pregnancy so they have sufficient levels in their systems early enough to prevent spina bifida.
MDH Birth Defects program staff worked collaboratively with physicians and public health experts to create guidelines for folic acid use in birth defects prevention. All women of child-bearing age are advised to take a folic acid supplement every day, regardless of pregnancy intention. The guidelines and a reference manual for folic acid supplementation in special circumstances have been endorsed by Minnesota Medical Association and are available online at the Birth Defects program's website at Minnesota's Folic Acid Guidelines for the Prevention of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) (PDF: 136KB/2 pages)
January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and January 2-8, 2011, is National Folic Acid Awareness Week
Despite the fact that over 2,000 babies in Minnesota and approximately 150,000 babies in the U.S. are born each year with major birth defects, little is known about the actual causes of birth defects. However, progress is being made in understanding how some birth defects can be prevented. Addressing health risks and behaviors before pregnancy can reduce the occurrence of some birth defects:
- Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) and Folic Acid - Each year spina bifida and anencephaly, the two most common forms of NTDs, occur in approximately 1 of every 1,000 pregnancies in the U.S. Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid a day before conceiving and during pregnancy can reduce the occurrence of spina bifida or other neural tube defects by as much as 70%.*
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) - Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are conditions that can be found in an infant whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Children with FAS/FASD commonly have life-long problems with learning, memory, attention, problem-solving, social/behavioral challenges, and physical disabilities. Women who are thinking about becoming pregnant should stop using alcohol. If a pregnant woman has already used alcohol during her pregnancy, she should stop right away. No amount of alcohol has been found to be safe to drink while pregnant.
- Diabetes - The presence of birth defects in the babies of mothers with poorly controlled diabetes (pre-gestational and gestational) can be 2 to 5 times higher than in the infants of women with well-controlled blood glucose levels.* Some of the associated birth defects include NTDs, heart defects, skeletal defects, and defects in the urinary, reproductive, and digestive systems. Maintaining glucose levels at or near normal levels with diet, medication, and exercise before and during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of birth defects.
Women who are thinking about pregnancy should get a pre-pregnancy health checkup to discuss how to best prevent birth defects. For more information on birth defects prevention and the MDH Birth Defects Monitoring and Analysis Unit's current activities, please see the MDH Birth Defects website
* Sources: Spina Bifida Association of America, March of Dimes, National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Birth Defects Program is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (Network) to share the message that a mother’s health, including her weight, before, during and after pregnancy is an important foundation to having a healthy baby who grows into a healthy child. “Getting Fit for Pregnancy” is the theme of National Birth Defects Prevention Month in January, 2009.
January has been nationally recognized as Birth Defects Prevention Month. Prevention is a key goal of the MDH Birth Defects program. Some key factors that can contribute to Birth Defects include:
- consumption of any alcohol during pregnancy can lead to lasting and irreversible birth defects, including mental retardation, facial and brain abnormalities, growth retardation, and learning and behavior disabilities; and
- smoking before and during pregnancy has been associated with miscarriages, tubal pregnancies, prematurity, infant mortality, and birth defects; and
- the consumption of 400 micrograms per day of folic acid prior to pregnancy can prevent 50 to 70 percent of neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida) and that this recommended dose of folic acid is readily available in daily multivitamins; and
- the understanding of the underlying genetic factors associated with birth defects may allow more effective environmental interventions to prevent birth defects; and
- there are a number of other things that should be avoided during pregnancy to help improve birth outcomes, including illegal drugs, saunas, hot tubs, undercooked meat, cat litter boxes, and commonly available toxic substances and chemicals (e.g. cleaning solvents, lead and mercury, insecticides, and paint fumes).
Prevention of birth defects is critically important and one of the best ways to prevent birth defects is for parents and health care providers to work together with public health and private organizations to help ensure that all Minnesota children have an equal opportunity for a healthy start in life:
The National Council on Folic Acid has designated January 7-13, 2008 as National Folic Acid Awareness Week. This is an annual effort to raise awareness of the benefits of folic acid in the prevention of birth defects.
According to the latest studies, adequate folic acid levels can prevent up to 70 percent of neural tube defects (i.e., spina bifida). Studies also show that women are more likely to take folic acid when their physician recommends that they do so. However, adequate folic acid levels in women have declined in the recent past. MDH has additional links to Partners in Birth Defects Prevention, Preventing Birth Defects and national efforts for Folic Acid Awareness Week.
The National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) is offering an educational resource packet for Birth Defects Prevention Month, January 2007. The focus this year will again highlight the importance of preconceptional health. Both the importance of achieving optimal health for women of childbearing age prior to conception, and the role preconceptional health plays in the prevention of birth defects. Achieving preconceptional health encompasses such areas as:
- Consuming 400 micrograms of folic acid daily;
- Knowing one's family history;
- Having a check-up from a health care provider prior to conception;
- Seeking reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate;
- Managing chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, lupus or phenylketonuria (PKU);
- Avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs;
- Ensuring that prescription medication and herbal supplements are safe at the time of conception and during early pregnancy; and
- Avoiding harmful occupational and environmental exposures.
In addition, avoiding infections and ensuring protection against domestic violence are also important elements of preconceptional health.
The National Council on Folic Acid is offering an on-line tool kit for National Folic Acid Awareness Week, January 8 - 14, 2007. The kit offers ideas for programs that can be customized for your community’s use during National Folic Acid Awareness Week, as well as bookmarks, brochures and stickers for use in sharing the folic acid message.
The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and the Down syndrome community invite the public to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month this October. There will be special opportunities across the country to learn about Down syndrome and to promote acceptance and inclusion of individuals born with this genetic condition.
The Spina Bifida Association (SBA) has an awareness campaign that is a yearlong effort to increase public awareness and understanding of Spina Bifida. They concentrate their efforts during Spina Bifida Awareness month in October. The SBA of Minnesota will be hosting their Annual Fall Conference on October 13, 2007. Advance registration is requested. For more information, see the Spina Bifida Association of Minnesota web site.
Once again the National Council on Folic Acid (NCFA) is launching National Folic Acid Awareness Week, January 9-15, 2006. The campaign is to increase awareness of folic acid consumption as a key strategy for optimal health.
The National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) has designated January 2006, as Birth Defects Prevention Month. They have chosen “Good Health Habits for a Lifetime” for this year's theme. Good health habits for women over their lifetime includes knowledge of one’s family history, a “preconceptional” visit with a health care provider before considering pregnancy, management of any ongoing or chronic diseases before trying to become pregnant, seeking reproductive genetic counseling, and daily consumption of 400 mcg of folic acid every day starting prior to conception.
Information about Spina Bifida and Spina Bifida Awareness Month can be found at the Spina Bifida Association Website. There is also an opinion article posted on the Hispanic PR Wire, which was submitted by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.). The article discusses the high risk for Spina Bifida in the Latino population while that population is also the lowest in folic acid consumption.
The National Council on Folic Acid (NCFA) is launching National Folic Acid Awareness Week, January 24-30, 2005. Their campaign, “Folic Acid: You Don’t Know What You’re Missing!” will focus on general nutrition and overall health. The campaign will make people aware of the importance of folic acid in the diet and its many lifelong benefits. The week will be especially important due to the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets. NCFA is particularly concerned that people who are consciously curtailing their intake of fortified grains may not be getting essential vitamins and minerals necessary for health and well-being.Additional Information:
The National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) has designated January 2005, as Birth Defects Prevention Month. They have chosen Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) as the focus of this year’s materials. Approximately 1 in 1,000 children in the United States are born each year with FAS. However, there are estimates that as many as ten times that many children are born with other prenatal alcohol-related conditions. FAS is a leading cause of mental retardation and is 100% preventable.