Across America, one baby in every 33 is born with a birth defect. In Arizona, that translates to about 2,400 children each year born with any of a number of diagnoses, including Down syndrome, heart defects, cleft lip and cleft palate, and spina bifida.

Many causes of birth defects, such as changes in genes and chromosomes, are out of parents’ control. During Birth Defects Awareness Month, we’re sharing some simple ways that people who can get pregnant can reduce their risk of birth defects:

  • Take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Folate is found naturally in many foods, but your body absorbs the man-made form of folate, called folic acid, even better. For even better absorption, take a folic acid vitamin alone, without food. 
  • Stay up-to-date on immunizations. Your doctor can tell you about any vaccinations you should receive before and during pregnancy.
  • Get regular medical checkups and know your  family’s medical history.
  • Avoid tobacco, including second-hand smoke.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • Prevent insect bites. Mosquitoes may carry West Nile, Zika, and other viruses that can be harmful during pregnancy.
  • Manage chronic conditions as much as possible before and during pregnancy.

Birth defects put children at risk for lifelong challenges with their bodies, with learning and understanding, as well as social challenges. Birth defects are also involved in one in five infant deaths. Families and children born with birth defects may have higher health care costs and need more emotional support throughout their lives. In the United States, the yearly hospital costs related to birth defects are over $2.6 billion.

Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it also can be stressful. Knowing that you are doing all that you can to get ready for pregnancy, staying healthy during pregnancy, and helping give your baby a healthy start to life will help you to have peace of mind.