It’s estimated that birth defects occur in about 1 out of every 33 infants – the good news is that some of these are preventable. Expectant mothers can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by managing existing health conditions, adopting healthier lifestyle choices, and making regular visits to a health care provider before and during pregnancy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, a nationwide effort to raise awareness of birth defects, their causes and their impact. The second week of January is also World Folic Acid Awareness Week. In observance of these important issues, we’re encouraging expectant mothers and women trying to conceive to take steps to increase the chances for a healthy pregnancy.

Take folic acid every day: Expectant mothers and women trying to conceive should take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. The brain and spine need folic acid in order to develop properly. This development begins very early during pregnancy, before many women know that they are pregnant. Women who are trying to become pregnant and women who are not trying but are not using contraception should take folic acid. Start taking folic acid at least one month before becoming pregnant and continue to take it every day throughout the pregnancy. Most women’s multivitamins have the necessary folic acid dose.

Do not start or stop taking medication without input from your health care provider: Many women have health conditions such as high blood pressure which require medicines for treatment. Some of the medicines commonly used in non-pregnant patients are not the best ones to use during pregnancy. If you are planning on becoming pregnant, speak with a health care provider about medicines you’re currently taking. Transitioning to medications which are safe for use in pregnancy before you conceive can help keep both you and your developing baby healthy.

Get up-to-date with all vaccines: Vaccines help protect you and your developing baby from serious diseases. Making sure you get a flu shot as soon as it is seasonally available. Receiving the whooping cough vaccine during each pregnancy will give protection to your newborn.

Try to reach a healthy weight before pregnancy: Obesity puts expectant mothers at a higher risk for birth defects and other pregnancy complications. If you are overweight or obese, speak with a health care provider about ways you can reach and maintain a healthy weight before pregnancy. Healthy eating and regular physical exercise are great ways to maintain a healthy weight before and during pregnancy.

Avoid harmful substances: Avoiding alcohol, tobacco and non-prescription drugs dramatically reduces the chances of birth defects. A safe level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy is not known, and alcohol use in pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol can cause numerous problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, so it’s important to stop drinking when you start trying to get pregnant. Smoking during pregnancy can also harm the developing baby and can cause certain birth defects, while using certain drugs during pregnancy can cause health problems for both the mother and her developing child.

If you’re an expecting mother or trying to conceive, visit or call 502-588-4400 for more information, or to schedule an appointment with a health care provider.

Image of post author
Article by: Sara Petruska, M.D.

Sara Petruska, M.D., is an obstetrician and gynecologist with UofL Physicians OB/GYN & Women’s Health. She serves as medical director for Labor and Delivery at UofL Hospital’s Center for Women & Infants. She received her medical degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, Fla. Dr. Petruska completed her residency and fellowship at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Stony Brook, N.Y.

All posts by Sara Petruska, M.D.
Calendar icon that indicates scheduling an appointment
Schedule an