FORTY FORT, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Nearly 120,000 babies are born each year in the U.S. with birth defects. That’s one in every 33 newborns. An area health facility is getting the word out to try and reduce those numbers.
While we know the cause of some birth defects, others stem from a mix of factors. Eyewitness News got some expert advice on what women can do to prevent birth defects even before trying to conceive.
An ultrasound image on Thursday at Geisinger Maternal Fetal Medicine gave Stefanie Weber a glimpse of her unborn daughter due in April. “I’m very excited about the pregnancy,” said the Mountain Top woman. Geisinger OB/GYN Dr. Corinna Muller, delivered some good news. “Baby’s heartbeat looks nice and regular.”
That’s not the case in all pregnancies. A baby is born with congenital heart disease or some other major birth defect in America about every four and a half minutes. Sometimes it’s because mom-to-be has a pre-existing condition like seizure disorders — or worse — diabetes. “That can actually increase someone’s risk for birth defects like neural tube defects, heart defects, or skeletal defects by about three fold,” said Dr. Muller.
While Stefanie is not diabetic, Dr. Muller recommends women who are diabetic and thinking about pregnancy should take some steps to reduce the risk of birth defects. “Someone who has better control over their blood sugars and maybe is more compliant with their diet might have a lower risk of having abnormalities.”
Besides being an expectant mom, Stefanie is a genetic counselor at Geisinger Maternal Fetal Medicine in Forty Fort. “I do see pregnancies that are unfortunately unhealthy.” She helps chart genetic conditions in expectant parents that could signal a potential problem for the unborn child. “It’s moreso getting reoccurrence risks. What are the chances for your particular pregnancy to have those same conditions.”
Besides pre-existing health conditions of the mom-to-be, the biggest threat to the unborn child would be preventable lifestyle choices like alcohol or drug use and smoking. The risk is giving birth to an underweight baby or a newborn with physical or developmental disabilities. “You want to make sure that you can do everything in your power what you can control,” said Stefanie.
That includes taking prenatal vitamins and folic acid supplements. It’s also important to note many defects can be successfully detected and treated before or after birth.