It is important that women of childbearing age achieve optimal health prior to conception. The role the mother's health plays in the prevention of birth defects cannot be overemphasized, according to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.
"The baby's environment includes not just the womb, but the home, so it is important that both of those environments be healthy for mother and baby," said Michele Kling, director of media relations for the March of Dimes -- the national health organization created in 1938 by Franklin D. Roosevelt to combat polio.
Around 140 to 150 babies are born to Rim County parents each year; most are delivered at Payson Regional Medical Center.
Good health habits for women over their lifetimes include a knowledge of one's family health history, a preconception visit with a health-care provider before considering pregnancy, genetic counseling and management of any on-going or chronic maternal illnesses like diabetes, lupus, phenylketonuria (PKU) or seizure disorders before trying to become pregnant.
The health habits are important for women because they carry the baby.
While the health of the father does not affect the baby's health in the same ways the mother's does, the "Men Have Babies Too" program sponsored by the March of Dimes addresses the father's direct and indirect contributions.
His healthy sperm and contribution to the healthy environment by not smoking, over-indulging in alcohol or being drug addicted are important, said Kling.
Birth defects such as Down syndrome and sickle cell anemia are caused by genetic factors. Certain drugs and or chemicals cause others. The sexually transmitted disease syphilis can cause birth defects.
The good news is that some birth defects can be prevented. The March of Dimes recommends that women:
- Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine and illegal drugs
- Ensure that prescription medication and herbal supplements are safe at the time of conception and during early pregnancy and
- Avoid harmful occupational and environmental exposures such as weed killers and paint thinner
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins our bodies use to create new cells. Having enough folic acid in her body before pregnancy helps a woman ensure her baby is born without neural tube defects of the spine and brain. Small steps like taking a multivitamin everyday can make a big difference.
Unborn babies drink and eat everything their mothers do. With each alcoholic drink she takes, a woman increases her child's risk of being born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause abnormal facial features, growth retardation and central nervous system problems.
Smoking during pregnancy can cause stillbirths, preterm delivery and low birth weight, which has its own set of health risks including cerebral palsy.
Drug use can cause a myriad of deformities and the baby is at risk to be born addicted.
Birth defects are responsible for 23.5 percent of all infant deaths.
Information on March of Dimes programs can be found at www.marchofdimes.com. The local March of Dimes chapter is at 3550 N. Central, Phoenix, Az 85012. For more information, call (602) 266-9933.
New Beginnings Pregnancy Center also has health information. For more information, telephone (928) 474-7466.