An adorable baby girl looks up with her tongue sticking out.

Much like a new year, learning that you’re pregnant is a time full of wonder and excitement. 

A baby, despite their small size, changes almost everything. There’s a lot that goes into preparing for your little one, but really the #1 concern for most parents is how to keep their baby healthy.

You may not have known it, but January is actually National Birth Defects Prevention Month. What a great time of year to reflect on some practical tips that can help keep you and your baby healthy throughout pregnancy and delivery. Knowledge is power, so keep reading to learn more!

A pregnant woman holds her baby bump in the shape of a heart.

Prevent Birth Defects & Keep Your Baby Healthy

Each year, around 120,000 babies are born with a birth defect. To give you more perspective, this means that 1 in every 33 babies is born with an abnormality.  That’s a lot. Birth defects affect a child’s health and can alter their physicality, intellect, and development. Thankfully the CDC has many helpful recommendations that help prevent birth defects.

Here’s a few steps you should take once you learn you’re pregnant:

► Since you just received the good news, there’s no better time than now to select your doctor and schedule an appointment. Your doctor should be able to answer all of your questions and they’ll also see you for checkups throughout your pregnancy.

► It’s really important to steer clear of substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs. If you’re planning on getting pregnant, avoid them before trying to conceive. None of these substances are safe for your baby. 

► Check with your doctor about the prescription medications you currently take. Professional counsel can help discern whether certain medications are safe or not. Some medications actually cause birth defects, so due diligence is vital.

► It’s also recommended that you get your flu and Tdap vaccinations during each pregnancy to help prevent illness. Not all vaccinations are safe to receive during pregnancy, so always consult with your doctor first.

Stay Healthy During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a difficult time in a woman’s life. With so many changes happening all at once it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Don’t forget to take time for yourself…prop those feet up and relax. Why? Because you deserve it, simple as that.

To keep you and your baby healthy, keep these tips in mind:

►According to the CDC, “Most women need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day to help prevent birth defects. Women who might have pregnancies at high risk for certain birth defects should talk to their doctor about the right amount of folic acid for them.” Folic acid is a B-vitamin found in multivitamins and foods like breads and breakfast cereals.

►Consult with your doctor if you’re traveling abroad. According to the CDC, “Pregnant women can generally travel safely with a little preparation. But they should avoid some destinations, including those with Zika and malaria risk.” (Many diseases, including Zika and malaria, can cause birth defects and learning disabilities.)

►Prepare raw food items with great care, wash your hands during the cooking process, and avoid being around people that are sick. Infections can travel to the baby and cause birth defects.

Keeping a healthy diet and getting your recommended amount of exercise will keep you on the right track to a successful pregnancy. Be sure to visit the CDC’s website where you can read many more tips on how to maintain a healthy pregnancy. 

A woman lathers soap in her hands underneath a faucet.

Avoiding (& Identifying) Malpractice

So we’ve discussed a number of ways to protect your baby before birth, but how do you protect your baby during birth?  Unfortunately medical errors and negligence are very real and prevalent problems. Conditions like cerebral palsy and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy sometimes happen because of a careless mistake. 

Sadly, mistakes like these are usually unavoidable. But here’s some tips that can be helpful in a medical setting:

► Have a family member or friend there with you. Beyond the emotional support they can provide, their presence helps keep the medical staff accountable. When you’re under an anesthetic or incapacitated, a friend can help ensure you receive prompt and thorough care. An extra set of ears and eyes is almost always a good thing.

► Unfortunately not all doctors have good bedside manner. If your doctor says something that’s confusing or you don’t understand, ask them to clarify. You deserve to know exactly what’s going on, treatments that are taking place, and what to expect during the process. Being aware can help you avoid malpractice in some cases, and identify it in others. 

► Doctors make mistakes, so stay attentive to anything that feels off. If you need to, ask for a second opinion. Don’t worry about hurting your physicians feelings, you and your baby’s health are far too important.

► Stay in tune with your body. Be aware of symptoms, changes, and effects in you or your child’s health. Communicate these with your doctor to make sure they’re paying attention to your needs and are providing the care you deserve. Take note when they’re not, both for prevention and worst case, future legal action.

► Again, staying aware and in the loop helps prevent malpractice, so don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions, and even take notes if something seems off.

January, National Birth Defects Prevention Month, is a great time of year to both refresh your personal knowledge, and to promote awareness in your community. Together, we can help decrease the likelihood of birth defects and keep moms and babies healthier!