A New Year’s Resolution: Healthy Moms for Birth Defects Prevention

January 17th, 2014

by Cynthia A. Moore, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Birth defects are common, costly and critical conditions. Did you know that, every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born in the United States with a major birth defect such as cleft lip or spina bifida? That is 1 in every 33 babies born.

And each year, about 1 in every 5 babies dies before their first birthday because of a birth defect.  Birth defects not only impact babies born with these conditions; they also have an emotional and financial impact on their families and communities.

Each year, CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities joins many organizations to recognize January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month.

Although not all birth defects can be prevented, we’ve learned a lot about what might increase the risk for birth defects and ways to reduce the risk.

For example, we know that taking certain medications, smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk for birth defects. We also know that certain things, like getting 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy, can reduce the risk for major birth defects. Managing health conditions and adopting healthy behaviors before becoming pregnant can help increase your chances of having a healthy baby.

As part of your new year’s resolution this year, moms-to-be and women planning a pregnancy can take care of themselves and work toward a healthy lifestyle:

  • Get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
  • Have regular medical checkups.
  • Make sure medical conditions, such as diabetes, are under control.
  • Talk to a health care provider about medication use.
  • Have tests for infectious diseases and get necessary vaccinations.
  • Avoid cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs.

Planning a pregnancy and working to get healthy before becoming pregnant can make a difference. This is important because most birth defects happen very early during pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it also can be stressful. When an expectant mom knows she’s doing all she can to get ready, staying healthy and giving baby a healthy start in life will help to give peace of mind.

For more information and resources, visit CDC’s birth defects website.