BHealthy Blog

Preparing for Pregnancy: Lowering Your Risk of Birth Defects

A happy, healthy pregnancy and baby are always the goal of every mother and healthcare provider.

At Baptist Health, our team of women’s health experts want to do everything possible to ensure mothers are at a low risk for birth defects and complications during pregnancy. 

The best way to reduce your risk is to plan ahead and talk to your provider about your health and any concerns you may have prior to becoming pregnant. 

What is a Birth Defect?

Birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part or parts of the body. They may affect how the body looks, works, or both. Birth defects can vary from mild to severe. Some birth defects are harmless. Others require long-term medical treatment.

“Heart defects are among the most common seen, then neural tube defects and Down Syndrome,” said Bobbie Chenowith, a nurse practitioner at Baptist Health Women’s Clinic-Fort Smith. 

Risk Factors

The cause of birth defects can be a complex mix of genetics and other factors including the mother’s exposure to medications, infections and even chemicals during pregnancy. 

Other factors that can increase a woman’s risk of have complications during pregnancy or birth defects:  

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Use of narcotics, alcohol or nicotine 
  • Personal or family history of birth defects, or a child born previously with a birth defect
  • Conditions like uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension and obesity 
  • Certain medication use at time of conception 

Having one or more of these risks doesn’t mean you’ll have a pregnancy affected by a birth defect. Also, women can have a baby born with a birth defect even when they don’t have any of these risks. It is important to talk to your doctor about what you can do to lower your risk.

Planning Ahead & Prenatal Vitamins 

Scheduling a preconception checkup is the best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Your OB/GYN will make sure you’re healthy enough to conceive and have a safe pregnancy. They will also discuss a plan to get off any birth control, guide you in choosing a prenatal vitamin and discuss your family’s health history. 

Chenowith says taking a prenatal vitamin before and during pregnancy is very important, as well. Prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter at many pharmacies and grocery stores. Your physician or pharmacist may recommend a particular vitamin. 

During pregnancy, you need more folic acid and iron than usual. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects that can affect the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Your body requires more iron during pregnancy so that it can make more blood to supply oxygen to the baby. If you do not have enough iron stories or get enough  iron during pregnancy, you could develop iron deficiency anemia. Risks associated with anemia during pregnancy include premature birth and low birth weight.

In addition to checking for folic acid and iron, look for a prenatal vitamin that contains calcium and vitamin D.

“We also recommend if you’re planning to become pregnant to take folic acid 400 mcg daily at least one to three months before conception,” Chenowith said. 

Chenowith also recommends regular visits with your doctor if you are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant. Quality prenatal care will allow you to stay up-to-date on vaccines or screenings that may be recommended for you. 

If you are considering pregnancy, we offer you the resources you need to prepare to conceive and carry your baby. If you’re considering trying to conceive and would like to discuss pregnancy with an expert, request a preconception check-up with one of our OB/GYNs.