News release: MDH is promoting prevention of congenital heart defects during National Birth Defects Prevention Month

News Release
January 6, 2012
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MDH is promoting prevention of congenital heart defects during National Birth Defects Prevention Month

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) and the Minnesota March of Dimes to increase awareness about congenital heart defects in Minnesota during January, National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Approximately 1 in 110 live births are reported to have congenital heart defects annually in the U.S. Fortunately, many forms of congenital heart defects may be preventable through healthy lifestyle choices and medical interventions before and during pregnancy.

"MDH is distributing information to local public health departments who work with women across the state, and we are excited to be part of this national movement," said Kristin Oehlke, Birth Defects Program manager at MDH. "Through our efforts across the state, we aim to reach women and their families with vital prevention information."

Oehlke noted that the first few weeks of pregnancy are especially important. "The heart forms in the early weeks of pregnancy, and diet, lifestyle choices, environmental factors, health conditions and medications all can play a role in preventing or causing congenital heart defects," Oehlke said.

To help prevent congenital heart defects, studies have shown that women should:

  • Avoid all alcohol and illegal/recreational drugs if there is a chance they may become pregnant.
  • Avoid all exposure to smoke, chemicals and toxins, both at work and at home.
  • Take a folic acid supplement throughout the child-bearing years and check with health care providers about getting adequate amounts of all essential nutrients.
  • See a physician before pregnancy. This is especially important for women who are taking medications for medical conditions such as seizures or depression; have any known metabolic conditions, including diabetes or obesity; or have a family history of congenital heart defects.
  • Ensure their blood sugar is under control and achieve a healthy weight before pregnancy if they have diabetes or are obese.

"Small steps like visiting a health care provider before pregnancy and taking a multivitamin every day can make a difference," said Oehlke. She added that women can take other steps in their everyday lives to maintain good health, such as having regular health care check-ups and learning about family history and genetic risks.

More information is available at


For more information, contact:

John Stieger
MDH Communications

Kristin Oehlke
Birth Defects Monitoring and Analysis Program