Healthy Habits Help Avoid Risk of Birth Defects

February 05, 2016


Everyone wants their babies to be healthy, but every 4 ½ minutes in the United States, a baby is born with a birth defect.

Penn Highlands Healthcare is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network, or NBDPN, and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, to invite women and their families to work to reduce the risk of birth defects in their future children by making healthy choices throughout their reproductive years.

In honor of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the Maternal and Child Centers of Penn Highlands Healthcare are encouraging healthcare professionals, educators, social service professionals and everyone to help in this effort.  

Although not all birth defects can be prevented, all women, including teens, can lower their risk of having a baby born with a birth defect by following some basic health guidelines throughout their reproductive years. 
The guidelines are simplified as PACT for:

  • Prevention. Get as healthy as possible before becoming pregnant. Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
  • Avoiding harmful substances. Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking. Be careful with harmful exposures at work and home. 
  • Choosing a healthy lifestyle. Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean proteins. Be physically active. Work to get medical conditions like diabetes under control. “As approximately half of pregnancies in the US are unplanned or intended, it’s particularly important for women to have a healthy lifestyle, even if they are not currently planning a pregnancy,” Dr. Christina Pisani-Conway, perinatologist at Penn Highlands Maternal Fetal Medicine, said. Perinatologists see patients who are hoping to get pregnant or who are pregnant and may be at high risk for complications.
  • Talking to your healthcare provider. Get a medical checkup. Discuss all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. Talk about your family medical history.

Through PACT, women can reduce the risk of having a child with a birth defect and also reduce their risk of pregnancy complications, such as early pregnancy loss, prematurity and stillbirths. 

About 120,000 babies are affected by birth defects each year in the United States.

Not only can birth defects lead to lifelong challenges and disability, they are also the most common cause of death in infants and the second most common cause of death in children aged one to four years. 

Public awareness, expert medical care, accurate and early diagnosis, and social support systems are all essential for optimal prevention and treatment of these all-too-common and sometimes serious conditions. 
Here at Penn Highlands, our patients have access to state of the art fetal ultrasound and experts in perinatal diagnosis to increase the chances that birth defects are identified, giving families the opportunity to prepare and optimizing outcomes for affected babies.”

Most people are unaware of how common 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. 

“The health of women prior to pregnancy can affect the risk of having a child with a birth defect. Diet, life-style choices, factors in the environment, health conditions and medications before and during pregnancy all can play a role in preventing or increasing the risk of birth defects,” Pisani-Conway said.

“Small steps like making healthy choices, 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,” she said.

And if someone you know is expecting and may have complications, Pisani-Conway offers this advice: “Allowing visibly pregnant women and their families to communicate what they feel comfortable with, listening and trying not offer unsolicited advice is probably the best way to be a good friend and neighbor.” 

For more information on Penn Highlands Maternal-Fetal Medicine, call the office at 814-371-6501.