LIFESTYLE NEWS - World Birth Defects Day (WBDD) is a day observed on 3 March.
Besides the very important aim of improving the health and quality of life of those affected by congenital conditions, one of the main goals of this annual awareness day is to share what is already known about how to prevent birth defects.
There are many types of birth defects, which are also known as congenital anomalies, congenital disorders or congenital conditions, the most common of these severe defects are heart defects, neural tube defects and Down syndrome. Every year an estimated 7.9 million children, 6 percent of total births worldwide, are born with a serious birth defect.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) occur when the spinal cord fails to close properly. The most common neural tube defect is spina bifida which can occur anywhere along the spine if the neural tube does not close all the way, which can result in the backbone that protects the spinal cord not forming and closing as it should. This often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves.
The most serious neural tube defect is anencephaly, which is when a baby is born without part of its skull and brain. Babies born with anencephaly will eventually die. Fortunately, some congenital disorders can be prevented, particularly neural tube defects.
Folate (vitamin B-9) is important in red blood cell formation and for healthy cell growth and function. This nutrient is crucial during early pregnancy to reduce the risk of these birth defects of the brain and spine. The synthetic form of folate is folic acid. There is overwhelming scientific evidence linking an increased intake of synthetic folic acid to a reduced risk of neural tube defects.
In fact, research indicates that at least half the cases of neural tube defects could be prevented if women consumed sufficient folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy, with some estimates stating that consuming enough folic acid (at least 400 micrograms per day) can reduce certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord by more than 70 percent.
Folate is found naturally mainly in dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peas and nuts. Fruits rich in folate include oranges, lemons, bananas, melons and strawberries. Many cereals and pastas are also fortified with folic acid.
While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are certain things that a woman can do before and during her pregnancy to increase her chances of having a healthy baby.
Besides getting 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day before falling pregnant, other steps include regular check ups and prenatal care, not drinking alcohol, taking recreational drugs or smoking, preventing infections where possible, and checking with a healthcare provider about any medications they may be taking or thinking about taking, whether these are prescription, over-the-counter medications or even herbal.
Please remember to speak to a doctor, pharmacist or gynaecologist about what supplements to take before and during pregnancy.
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