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January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month

By Tammye McDuff

For many couples, having a child is a normal part of a healthy relationship. Pregnancy and childbirth are part of the cycle of life and for most newborns; there will usually be a small birth mark. However, one in every 33 babies are born in the United States each year with a birth defect.

Birth defects are serious conditions categorized as changes to the structure of one or more parts of the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every four and a half minutes a baby is born with a birth defect, this translates into nearly 120,000 babies affected each year. Birth defects can involve almost any part of the body whether that is an organ or limb. They affect how the body looks, works, or both varying in degrees from mild to severe. The well-being of each child with a birth defect depends mostly on which organ or body part is involved and how much it is affected.

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month [NBDPN]. The theme for 2015 is “Making Healthy Choices to Prevent Birth Defects – Make a PACT for Prevention.” NBDPN’s goal for 2015 is to continue to increase awareness that birth defects are “Common, Costly and Critical” and to offer actionable steps that can be taken by professionals, community groups, and the public to prevent birth defects. The average baseline rate of having a birth defect is three to five percent for each pregnancy.


Dr. Sacha Kang-Chou is a graduate from the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. Currently Chou specializes in Obstetrics & Gynecology and has been in practice with PIH Hospital for the last six years. Chou was able to speak with Hews Media Group with exclusive information for those women or couples contemplating having a child.


“There are certain things that are modifiable,” states Chou, “certainly one of the most obvious things that come to mind is your weight. Obese women, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or greater, have a higher risk of pregnancy complications as well as certain types of birth defects. We try to educate our patients through our team of dieticians.” However because these days doctors have a more vigilant approach to a healthy pregnancy it is not uncommon for women to gain 25 lbs to 30 lbs.


Other factors to mention as prevention methods are modifiable, such as prescription drugs, recreational drugs; alcohol and food intake should be discussed with a physician in order to reduce the chances of birth defects.


Many birth defects are not found immediately at birth. A birth defect can affect how the body looks, how it works, or both. Some birth defects like cleft lip or spina bifida are easy to see.

Tests like an ultrasound and amniocentesis can detect birth defects such as heart defects, or Down syndrome before a baby is born. Prenatal care and screening are important because early diagnosis allows families to make decisions and plan for the future.





Not all birth defects can be prevented. But, there are things that a woman can do before and during pregnancy to increase her chance of having a healthy baby. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, see your physician or healthcare provider. Prenatal care can help find some problems early in pregnancy so that they can be monitored or treated before birth.


Chou is part of a group of eight physicians and three Nurse Practitioners for PIH Hospitals of Whittier.