The Maternal Fetal Medicine team at Sidra Medical and Research Center (Sidra) shared guidelines for maintaining a healthy pregnancy, key to limiting the probability of birth defects in newborns, in support of Birth Defect Prevention Awareness Month this January.
According to the World Health Organization, birth defects result in approximately 3.2 million disabilities every year globally (1). The March of Dimes Foundation, a U.S. organization concerned with improving infant health by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality, states that Qatar is among the 20 countries with the highest rates of birth defects: 73.4 per 1,000 live births (2).
Sidra’s Maternal Fetal Medicine team will provide the most sophisticated and effective care for pregnant women with complex maternal and fetal conditions. Cutting edge Prenatal Diagnosis and Fetal Therapy will be offered to meet the needs of patients and those referred from other centers for evaluation and management of fetal anomalies.
“Birth Defect Prevention Month puts healthy pregnancy in the spotlight. Although not all birth defects can be prevented, awareness and education are crucial steps to help increase the chances of having a healthy baby. However, translating awareness into behavior change is what will make the real difference,” highlighted Dr. Karim Kalache, Sidra’s Division Chief of Maternal-Fetal Medicine,
“There are steps a woman and her family should take to minimize chances of her offspring developing certain birth defects. It is important that these lifestyle changes are at the forefront of mothers’ minds even before becoming pregnant. I hope that the information we share strikes a chord and families are empowered to make more educated decisions about their health,” added Dr. Kalache.
Below are some tips from Sidra experts for expectant mothers to help them prepare for a healthy pregnancy.
Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day
Folic acid is a B vitamin. Sufficient amounts of folic acid in a woman’s body at least one month before and during pregnancy can prevent defects of the baby’s brain and spine, such as spina bifida. Fortified supplements and foods rich in folate are a great source of the vitamin (3).
Infections, especially in the first months of pregnancy, can pose serious danger to the baby with devastating, life-long consequences. Easy steps to prevent infections include: washing hands often; avoiding sharing utensils and food (preventing exchange of saliva) with young children who can carry infections that are dangerous for the fetus; cooking meat until it is well done; avoiding unpasteurized (raw) milk; not changing cat litter and avoiding contact with people who have an infection (3)
Maintain a healthy weight
A woman who is overweight or obese before pregnancy has a higher risk for complications during pregnancy. Additionally, obesity can lead to the baby being affected by serious anomalies, including heart anomalies and spina bifida (3).
Risks associated with smoking or being around smoke during pregnancy include premature birth, cleft lip and cleft palate and infant death (3)
Consult a physician about any medications
Certain medications can cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy. However, there are a lot of misconceptions about what can and cannot be taken. A woman should not start or stop taking medications if she is pregnant or planning to become pregnant without consulting her doctor. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary or herbal products (3)
Due to the intense summer heat, the majority of people opt to stay out of the sun and many outdoor activities take place at night during the hot summer months. As a result, many people in Qatar are Vitamin D deficient. According to one recent study from the College of Arts and Sciences of Qatar University, that number can be as high as 65% of the population. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of adverse outcomes for both mother and baby. Expectant mothers can increase Vitamin D intake by consuming foods rich in Vitamin D (e.g. egg yolk, salmon and cod liver oil), get 5-10 minutes of sun exposure a day and use Vitamin D supplements (4-6).
Most vaccinations are safe and recommended during pregnancy. Pregnant women are more prone to severe illness from the flu and face an increased chance of premature birth. Getting a flu shot is a crucial step in protecting against these complications and should be taken during pregnancy (3)
Attend regular check-ups with a physician
The physician will not only be able to monitor the health of the mother and baby, but recommend the right diet, medications and tests to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy. An ultrasound scan conducted during prenatal check-ups can confirm the health of the baby and assist the physician in properly monitoring the pregnancy (7)
1 World Health Organization. Congenital anomalies. Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs370/en/
2 March of Dimes. Global Report on Birth Defects. Available from: http://www.marchofdimes.com/materials/global-report-on-birth-defects-the-hidden-toll-of-dying-and-disabled-children-full-report.pdf
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for Preventing Birth Defects Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/prevention.html
4 World Health Organization. Vitamin D supplementation in pregnant women. Available from: http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/micronutrients/guidelines/vit_d_supp_pregnant_women/en/
5 American Pregnancy Association. Vitamin D and Pregnancy. Available from: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/vitamin-d-and-pregnancy/
6 The Peninsula. 65pc ‘people have Vitamin D deficiency.’ Available from: http://thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/qatar/304348/65pc-people-have-vitamin-d-deficiency
7 National Birth Defects Prevention Network. Birth Defects Prevention Month 2015. Available from: http://www.nbdpn.org/docs/10Things_Eng.pdf