Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Birth DefectsLisanne Wellness Center
When you’re pregnant, you want to do everything you can to make sure your baby gets a healthy start to life. It’s an exciting time, but it can also be stressful. Not only do you need to take care of yourself, but you also need to consider your baby’s needs for healthy growth and development.
Birth defects (abnormal development of the fetus that results in death, structural malformations, slowed growth, and functional disorders) affect 3% of all babies born in the United States each year. While not all birth defects can be prevented, you can increase your chances of having a healthy baby by adopting certain habits and keeping yourself healthy before and during pregnancy. Choose a healthy lifestyle, ditch harmful vices, and plan ahead.
Modify Your Diet
A healthy diet is a major component of a healthy lifestyle, especially when you are pregnant. Eat a variety of foods to meet nutrient needs and to gain the appropriate amount of weight. Poor diets (nutrient-poor and high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and salt) are linked with poorer pregnancy outcomes including lower birth weights. It is important to consume nutrients that support fetal growth and development while avoiding certain foods that could cause harm.
Important Nutrients and Where to Find Them
Iron: Many women don’t get enough iron during pregnancy. Your body needs more iron to make extra blood for your baby and ensure adequate oxygenation. Low iron levels are associated with an increased risk of preterm delivery and a low birth weight. Heme-iron is more easily absorbed and is found in meat products. Iron-rich foods that are safe to eat during pregnancy include chicken, red meat, spinach, clams and oysters, fortified cereals, and beans.
Vitamin-C: This helps with iron absorption and is also important for healing, bone growth and repair, collagen production, and healthy skin. Great sources of Vitamin-C include dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, citrus fruits, orange juice, and fresh raw (heat can easily destroy this vitamin) fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin-D: Many pregnant and breastfeeding women are lacking this important vitamin, which is essential for healthy bone and teeth development, immune function, and absorption of calcium and magnesium. Vitamin-D deficiency increases your risk of preeclampsia, low birth weight, and gestational diabetes, all of which can negatively impact your baby’s health. Commonly fortified foods include milk, orange juice, and cereals. Other dietary sources of Vitamin-D include herring and cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna, beef liver, egg yolks and cheese. You can also get Vitamin-D from the sun, but not all areas get adequate rays. To be on the safe side, it’s best to take a Vitamin-D supplement like Activ D3.
Healthy Fats: Omega-3 fatty acids are important for fetal development, especially the eyes and brain. The best source is seafood – something that pregnant women tend to stay away from. But research suggests the risk of not getting enough of these healthy fats (plus the other nutrients present in seafood) outweighs the risk of harm from potential trace contaminants. Aim for two servings of low-mercury fish per week (salmon, tilapia, cod, Atlantic mackerel). and avoid high-mercury fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, orange roughy, and marlin.
Take Your Vitamins
As you can see, a healthy balanced diet can boost your intake of essential vitamins. However, some vitamins are tough to obtain through diet alone. Your healthcare provider will let you know what vitamins you need to take. These will likely include:
Folic Acid: This is a crucial vitamin for preventing neural tube defects. You should start taking this a few months before you plan on becoming pregnant. Speak with your doctor about dosage; the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend all women of childbearing age get 400 mcg and to increase this amount to 600 mcg when pregnant. For a safe, healthy option, try Methyl Folate Plus.
Prenatal Multivitamin: Your prenatal vitamin will probably include all the vitamins and minerals you need. If you are deficient in any (such as Vitamin D or iron), then your doctor will let you know and you may require additional supplementation. Prenatal Support is a good option for pregnant women.
Despite being pregnant, you should still aim to get regular exercise. Exercise can improve your blood pressure, boost your mood, and help you to maintain a healthy weight. To reduce risk of harm to your baby, you may need to modify your routine. Overly vigorous exercise can restrict fetal oxygen levels and cause your body temperature to rise too much, which could negatively affect your baby. Activities that may injure your abdominal area should also be avoided. You also need to be careful as your belly grows since this will impair your balance and increase risk of falling. Some safe exercises include stationary cycling, walking, swimming, and doing yoga. It’s okay to add in some weights too; research supports using lighter weights and doing multiple repetitions as a safe and effective form of exercise during pregnancy.
Avoid Harmful Substances
You probably know that unhealthy habits and substances are linked with birth defects such as fetal alcohol syndrome, cleft lip or palate, and brain damage. Smoking, alcohol, and illicit drugs can cause significant harm to your baby. Give these up before becoming pregnant since they can reduce your chance of becoming pregnant in the first place and the healthier you are prior to pregnancy, the more likely you are to give birth to a healthy baby.
Give your baby the best chance at leading a healthy life by adopting a healthy lifestyle which includes a well-balanced diet, proper supplementation, regular exercise, and elimination of harmful substances.
For more information about how to avoid birth defects when you’re pregnant, contact Lisanne Wellness Center at 713-461-WELL.