Preventing birth defects and giving every baby the best start possible

Jeffery Williams, MD
Holy Rosary Healthcare Clinic

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately one in every 33 children born in the U.S. today will have some form of birth defect. Some are minor and require little, if any treatment. Others may lead to surgery and/or result in a disability or the need for lifelong medical intervention. 

Medical research and advances have significantly improved the overall prognosis for children born with birth defects. More importantly, we have identified steps expectant mothers can take to reduce the likelihood of birth defect and improve overall outcomes. 

One of the largest advancements made in recent years centers on the ingestion of folic acid by women of child-bearing age prior to becoming pregnant as well as throughout pregnancy. This B vitamin, now found in many fortified foods as well as in vitamin pills at the local pharmacy, is critical for the development of new cells during pregnancy. By taking the recommended 400 mcg of folic acid daily, women significantly reduce the likelihood that their child will be born with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida and anencephaly. 

Key dietary changes are also important. In addition to avoiding fish such as tuna, orange roughy and swordfish, which often have higher levels of mercury, women should be aware of and avoid foods that carry a higher risk of listeriosis. Those include unpasteurized milk and orange juice, hot dogs, lunch meats, certain types of cheese, and other items. 

Women can also protect themselves and their unborn babies by ensuring basic proper hygiene. Simply washing hands with soap and water after gardening, changing diapers, handling pets or touching raw meat or eggs can reduce the risk of infections and related defects. 

Perhaps one of the most significant steps that women can take, however, is also one of the most basic: getting good prenatal care. Working with a qualified obstetrics provider can reduce complications related to pregnancy and catch any potential health concerns for moms and babies early. Unfortunately, there are many women who do not actively seek care because they have used or are currently using drugs or alcohol. These women worry about the social stigma that may attach to their lifestyle choices and, even more significantly, the risk of having their children taken from them. 

Efforts are being made to encourage these women to get prenatal care earlier, however, by increasing access to care and delivering drug education and intervention when needed.

Dr. Jeff Williams considers it an honor to be a part of a special moment in people’s lives – the birth of a child. He enjoys partnering with the team at Holy Rosary to deliver the best possible outcomes for you and your family. His philosophy of care is to offer education in concert with care, so you are a partner in your health. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Williams online at hrh-mt.org/babies or by calling 406-233-2500.

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