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Preventing Birth Anomalies

Raising Awareness of Birth Anomalies in Oregon

Birth anomalies (birth defects) are common, costly, and critical. Every 4 ½ minutes a baby is born with a birth anomaly in the United States. More than 120,000 U.S. babies are born with a birth anomaly each year. That means 1 in every 33 babies is born with a birth anomaly. The estimated hospital costs for birth anomalies in the U.S. is $22.9 billion.

Birth anomalies are the leading cause of infant deaths in the U.S.

The Oregon Public Health Division and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) are working to increase awareness of birth anomalies, and how they may be prevented.

What can you do to prevent birth anomalies?

The risk for many types of birth anomalies can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices and medical care before and during pregnancy. Studies have shown several important steps women can take to help prevent birth anomalies.

Even small steps like visiting a healthcare provider before pregnancy and taking a multivitamin every day are helpful.

How women who are pregnant or may become pregnant can help prevent birth anomalies:

  • Plan your pregnancy
  • Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily
  • Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or phenylketonuria (PKU)
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight
  • Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter
  • Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs
  • See a health care provider regularly
  • Avoid toxic substances at work or at home
  • Ensure protection against domestic violence
  • Know their family medical history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate.
Folic Acid and Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)
  • All women who can become pregnant should get 400mcg of folic acid every day - whether they plan to become pregnant or not. 
  • Folic acid can prevent major birth anomalies of the brain and spine called, neural tube defects, like anencephaly and spina bifida. 
  • Folic Acid Resources:
Critical Congenital Heart Defects (CCHDs)
  • All babies should be screened for CCHDs after birth using pulse oximetry. 
  • CCHDs are life threatening conditions that require intervention, usually in the first year of life. 
  • Early detection and intervention is key to saving lives. 
  • CCHD Screening Resources:

What causes birth anomalies?

There are over 4,000 different types of birth anomalies. The causes for most birth anomalies are unknown. A complex mix of factors including our genetics (information inherited from our parents), our behaviors, and things in the environment likely work together to cause birth anomalies. This means that not all birth anomalies can be prevented.

There are birth anomalies that we know some of the causes, such as spina bifida. Many birth anomalies may have several causes, some known and some unknown. For instance, we know that tobacco use during pregnancy raises the chance of having a baby with a cleft lip or palate. However, these birth anomalies can also be caused by other factors. Microcephaly can be caused by a variety of things, including alcohol use during pregnancy and the Zika virus.