Birth Defects Prevention Month: Tips for A Healthy Pregnancy

Best For You. Best for Baby.
January marks National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and this year’s theme is “Best For You. Best For Baby.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 33 babies born in the United States are born with a birth defect. The CDC also reports that birth defects are the leading cause of infant deaths, accounting for 20% of all infant deaths.

The causes of most birth defects are unknown. However, some congenital deficiencies are known to be caused by genetics, environmental factors, chromosomal issues, or infection. One study reiterates others' previous findings that maternal stress may also be associated with an increased risk of certain birth defects. Additionally, we know that birth defects are most likely to occur within the first three months of pregnancy when critical systems and organs are developing. Birth defects can range from mild to severe, with conditions affecting either the child’s appearance or function, or both. The most common types of birth defects include heart defects, cleft lip/palate, Down syndrome, and spina bifida.

How Can I Stay Healthy During Pregnancy?

There are some things you can do to increase your health during pregnancy. The CDC recommends pregnant women avoid certain activities. The following may increase the likelihood of having a baby with a birth defect:

  • Smoking, consuming alcohol, or taking unprescribed medications
  • Having a medical condition such as obesity or unmanaged diabetes
  • Having a family history of birth defects
  • Being of an older maternal age
While the above list is not exhaustive and does not guarantee an affected pregnancy, it is best to adhere to the general guidelines of a healthy lifestyle. Always consult with your physician regarding your maternal health plan.
Maintaining a healthy pregnancy

What Preventative Measures Can I Take?

Research shows that what a woman does before and during pregnancy can affect the outcome of a baby’s development. It is a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider prior to pregnancy to determine a prenatal regimen specific to your needs. The following suggestions from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) are outlined as a means to help reduce the chances of the occurrence of certain birth defects:

  • Increase daily intake of folic acid to 400 micrograms (mcg), starting at least one month before getting pregnant
  • Take a daily prenatal vitamin
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Engage in regular exercise
  • Limit exposure to lead and mercury
  • Stay current with measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), influenza, and chickenpox vaccinations

(*The CDC reports a limited amount of data and the need for additional studies and clinical trial findings to determine the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine administered during pregnancy. Pregnant women are advised to speak with their healthcare provider regarding the decision to receive the vaccine given emergency use authorization.)

Can Umbilical Stem Cells Help Treat Birth Defects?

Certain types of cells found within cord blood and cord tissue have been linked to increased treatment success in a variety of conditions. A research publication notes, “Cell therapy can offer a reasonable approach to the treatment of specific birth defects, particularly those for which hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) can be used to restore (even partially) the number of cells, protein levels, or enzyme activity.” In addition to HSCs, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) also play a role in stem cell therapy. Several clinical trials have examined umbilical cord tissue-derived MSCs in the treatment of cleft palate repair, heart disease, muscular dystrophy, and other congenital anomalies. Beyond clinical trial studies, cord blood stem cells have been approved by the FDA to treat 80 conditions, including certain birth injuries such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

Parents should be aware of the therapeutic potential that umbilical stem cells possess. There are options for parents who wish to preserve their baby’s stem cells for their family’s exclusive use. Cord blood and cord tissue banking are particularly recommended when there is knowledge of a family member with a medical condition (malignant or genetic) who could potentially benefit from cord blood transplantation. While medical research is uncovering potential treatment alternatives for specific defects, the cause of prevalence remains widely unknown for most conditions. However, in general, a healthy pregnancy starts with a healthy you!

Taking the recommended precautions for you and your family's health should also include the consideration of banking your baby’s stem cells for future use. To learn more about the benefits of umbilical stem cell banking and how cord blood and cord tissue cells are being used, we invite you to join our virtual seminar taking place on January 26th!

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Last Updated on: 09/29/2023 by Diane Paradise