News release: Lifestyle choices can reduce birth defects

News Release
January 21, 2014

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Lifestyle choices can reduce birth defects

The Minnesota Department of Health is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) and the Minnesota March of Dimes to increase awareness of ways to prevent birth defects in Minnesota throughout January, which is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Gov. Mark Dayton has also proclaimed January as Birth Defects Prevention Month to further emphasize the importance of taking steps to reduce and prevent birth defects.

Birth Defects are the leading cause of infant deaths and the second leading cause of death in children aged one to four years in the United States. Every four and a half minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect. More than 120,000 babies born with a birth defect (approximately 1 in every 33 live births) are reported each year in the United States with about 2,000 babies born in Minnesota. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby’s health while others have life-threatening or life-long effects.

"Most people are unaware of how common, costly and critical birth defects are in Minnesota and nationally. Fortunately, healthy lifestyle choices and medical interventions before and during pregnancy can reduce many types of birth defects and result in better infant health outcomes,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “We want to make all women in their reproductive years aware of the importance of being healthy before getting pregnant, the significance of the first few weeks of pregnancy, and the value of taking folic acid on a regular basis.”

Martha Overby, director of programs and government affairs for the March of Dimes in Minnesota, notes that about half of pregnancies in Minnesota are unplanned. “All women of reproductive age should be taking a multivitamin containing folic acid every day because it has been shown to prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine. Taking folic acid is such an easy thing to do that can have such a major benefit to your future family and give your baby the healthiest start in life.”

To help prevent birth defects, studies have shown that women who are pregnant or could become pregnant should:

  • Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
  • Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or phenylketonuria (PKU).
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
  • Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs.
  • See a health care provider regularly.
  • Avoid toxic substances at work or at home.
  • Ensure protection against domestic violence.
  • Know their family history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate.

MDH is excited to be part of this national event and is actively working with local public health departments to raise awareness among health professionals, educators, and social service professionals who work with women across the state. MDH aims to reach women and their families with vital prevention information about how diet, lifestyle choices, environmental factors, health conditions, and medications all can play a role in preventing or causing birth defects.

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Media inquiries:

Scott Smith
MDH Communications