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Preventative measures can help mothers protect babies from birth defects

| January 19, 2017

COSHOCTON – Did you know that every four and a half minutes a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States?

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and the Coshocton County Maternal and Child Health Clinic joined the national effort to raise awareness about the issue and educate the public on the 2017 theme, “Prevent to Protect: Prevent Infections for Baby’s Protection.”

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but women can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by preventing infections before and during pregnancy.

All women are encouraged to Prevent to Protect by taking the following steps:

Properly prepare food.

  • Wash your hands before and after preparing food.
  • Do not eat raw or runny eggs or raw sprouts.
  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and cheese and other foods made from them.

Talk to your healthcare provider.

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to prevent infections such as the Zika virus.
  • Make sure that you are up-to-date with vaccinations (shots) before getting pregnant.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about vaccinations that you should receive during pregnancy.

Protect yourself from animals and insects known to carry diseases such as Zika virus.

  • Stay away from wild or pet rodents, live poultry, lizards and turtles, and do not clean cat litter boxes while pregnant.
  • When mosquitoes and ticks are active, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyputs (para-menthane-3,8-diol).

Maintain good hygiene

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, especially:
    • Before preparing or eating foods,
    • After handling raw meat, raw eggs, or unwashed vegetables,
    • After being around or touching pets and other animals,
    • After changing diapers or wiping runny noses.
  • Do not put a young child’s food, utensils, drinking cups, or pacifiers in your mouth.

An older maternal age also can increase a woman’s chance of having a baby with a birth defect.

“If you are over the age of 35 when you are pregnant we start doing extra testing for complications like Down Syndrome,” said Cindy Abood from the Maternal and Child Health’s prenatal clinic.

She also noted that when pregnant, it’s important to watch what medicine you take.

“We try not to over medicate especially during the first trimester when everything is developing for the baby,” Abood said. “After that, some medications are ok to go back on and some are not.”

Medications and an advanced maternal age are two possible causes of birth defects. Others include: Infection, pre-existing conditions and alcohol and drug use.

“Some birth defects happen for unknown reasons and others occur because of genetics, but there are some that we can help prevent,” said Tammy Smith, director of the Coshocton County Maternal and Child Health Clinic.

By following the Prevent to Protect guidelines, women can reduce the risk of having a child with a brain defect and also reduce their risk of pregnancy complications such as early pregnancy loss, prematurity and stillborn.

About 120,000 babies are affected by birth defects each year in the United States, with around 4,500 cases occurring in Ohio. Not only can birth defects lead to lifelong challenges and disabilities, they are also the most common cause of death in the first year of life and the second most common cause of death in children age one to four years old. Public awareness, expert medical care, accurate and early diagnoses, and social support systems are all needed for prevention and treatment of these all-too-common and sometimes deadly conditions.

“Most people don’t know how common, costly, and critical birth defects are in the United States, or that there are simple steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of birth defects,” Smith said. “Steps like up-to-date vaccinations, avoiding infections, visiting a healthcare provider well before pregnancy, controlling your weight through healthy diet and activity, and taking a multivitamin every day, can go a long way in assuring a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.”

She and Abood stressed the importance of early prenatal care.

“Ultrasounds are getting better and better and we can detect more problems early on,” Abood said. “If we see something we are concerned about we can then send you on to Columbus or to another area with high risk specialists to get a level two ultrasound and see things even better. It’s also helpful for us to be able to get lab work and a good medical history on mom early in the pregnancy. We can catch a lot in the first trimester that we can perhaps do something about.”

Anyone with more questions or who is in need of prenatal care is welcome to contact the Coshocton County Maternal and Child Health Clinic at 740-622-2999. The center is located at 724 S. Seventh St. and is open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.  Cindy Abood is available all day on Tuesdays to handle prenatal issues and Dr. Prior sees prenatal patients from 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoons.

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