January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Families and health professionals use this time to raise awareness about birth defects across the lifespan as well as highlight and educate on birth defects prevention.
Did you know January is birth defects awareness month? Health professionals all over the country use this time to raise awareness about birth defects across the lifespan as well as highlight and educate on birth defects prevention. According to the CDC, birth defects affect about 1 in every 33 children. Let that sink in as you picture just 33 children standing (the size of a large kindergarten class!) in front of you… statistically, one child in that group is living with a birth defect.
Some birth defects are not as easy to recognize as others. Birth defects don’t have to be obvious such as limb deficiencies or cleft lips. Birth defects can be internal, including things such as: neurologic disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, heart defects, etc.
While some birth defects are not preventable, there are some precautions that can be taken to help reduce the risk of birth defects. The National Birth Defects Prevention Network has these 5 Prevention Tips for their 2022 Birth Defects Awareness campaign promoting Healthy Communities and Healthy Babies:
- If you are a woman of childbearing age (15 – 45) be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day
- Be sure to book a visit with your health care provider annually for a preventative well exam
- Become and stay up to date with vaccines
- Care for your body and mind before and during pregnancy to set you and your baby up for success
- Avoid harmful substances during pregnancy such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also recommends:
- Have a conversation with your healthcare provider about your pregnancy intentions (Do you want to become pregnant in the next year?)
- Work with your health care provider to create a plan for when and if you want to become pregnant
- If or when you do become pregnant engage in early and consistent prenatal care
- If you can, find out about your health history, including the health history of your family, this is important information for your health care provider
Living with birth defects can be challenging for many children and their families. While it may seem daunting and almost impossible at times, there are several programs across Kansas that were founded with the sole purpose of helping children affected with birth defects and their families. One family close to my own heart has had first-hand experience with using these programs. See their story below:
Izabell is a two-and-a-half-year-old little girl with superpowers. Her special power? Hands down, making you smile when she smiles! Izzy had a difficult start in life. She was born with a heart defect, blood volume imbalance from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, anemia, hydrocephalus, epilepsy and cerebral visual impairment. You couldn’t tell just by looking at her and her contagious smile, but so far, she’s rocked 18 brain surgeries, one heart surgery and one gastrointestinal surgery.
After the tragic loss of Izabell’s twin sister, Josie, just four days prior to Izzy’s birth, their parents, Melissa and Taylor sought support from various programs throughout Kansas for Izzy. TARC, tiny-K Early Intervention Services and Ronald McDonald House Charities are just some of the programs that have assisted their family. Early intervention programs (tiny-K) like TARC provide a physical therapist, occupational therapist, early childhood educator, speech pathologist, family service provider and a feeding specialist free of charge to all families who qualify. Having access to these services not only provided the family with a much needed support system, it also saved the from family astronomical health care costs, anxiety and fear. In an interview with Melissa, she said, “We are grateful for the help that these services such as TARC and tiny-K have provided for us. They gave us a road map for success as well as proper expectations for this crazy thing we call life.”
If you or your partner is pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, be sure to follow the tips above and help prevent the occurrence of some birth defects. If you or someone you know has a birth defect or has a child who is living with a birth defect, you’re not alone. Reach out to your State and local services to get connected with these support programs today.
To search for additional support groups and resources near you, search here.