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Join Atrium Health Navicent in Raising Awareness About Birth Defects, Prevention and Early Detection

In observance of Birth Defects Awareness Month, physicians at Atrium Health Navicent encourage expectant mothers and women of child-bearing age to become educated about steps they can take to prevent and detect birth defects.

Birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year and are the leading cause of infant deaths, accounting for 20 percent of all infant deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of the 130,000 babies born each year in Georgia, 3,940 have birth defects, and 1 in 6 infant deaths in Georgia is due to birth defects, according to The March of Dimes.

Advancements in medicine and surgery have led to better survival, and more children born with birth defects -- structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part of the body -- grow up to lead full lives. Awareness of birth defects helps families get the information they need to seek proper care before, during, and after pregnancy.

“Early and consistent prenatal care is of the utmost importance in both prevention and detection of birth defects. Seeing an OB-GYN in the first trimester, or even preconception, is optimal. The physician can go through a patient’s medication list and history of medical conditions in order to make modifications that can lower the chance of birth defects,” said Dr. Padmashree “Champa” Chaudhury Woodham, director of the Regional Perinatal Center and director of Atrium Health Navicent Women’s Care Maternal Fetal Medicine. “In addition, certain tests can be performed in pregnancy that help in determining if a patient is high risk for birth defects or genetic disorders. A number of these tests are time-sensitive. Therefore, the sooner a pregnant patient goes to see her OB-GYN, the more information she can be provided regarding her risks.”

Birth defects can happen for many reasons. Although not all birth defects can be prevented, women can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by managing health conditions and adopting healthy behaviors before becoming pregnant.

Here are seven steps women can take to get ready for pregnancy, stay healthy during pregnancy, and give babies a healthy start in life:

· Get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Folic acid is a B vitamin. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body at least one month before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the developing baby’s brain and spine. Women can get folic acid from fortified foods or supplements, in addition to a varied diet rich in folate.

· Prevent infections. Some infections that a woman might get during pregnancy can be harmful to the developing baby. Pregnant women are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with nonpregnant women. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine before or during pregnancy can protect women from severe illness. Likewise, other vaccinations, such as the flu vaccine and Tdap (adult tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine), are specifically recommended during pregnancy.

· See a healthcare professional regularly. Be sure to see a doctor when planning a pregnancy and start prenatal care as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor about your current medications, as certain medications can cause serious birth defects when taken during pregnancy.

· Keep diabetes under control. Unmanaged diabetes can increase the chance for birth defects and other problems during pregnancy. Monitor your blood sugar levels, follow a healthy eating plan developed with your healthcare provider, be physically active, and take insulin as directed.

· Avoid alcohol. Alcohol in a woman’s bloodstream passes to the developing baby through the umbilical cord. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of disabilities. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer.

· Avoid smoking cigarettes and marijuana. The dangers of smoking during pregnancy include preterm birth, certain birth defects, and infant death. Quitting smoking before becoming pregnant is best. For a woman who is already pregnant, quitting as early as possible can still help protect against some health problems for the baby, such as low birth weight. Marijuana use during pregnancy also may be linked to lower birth weight. Women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should not use marijuana.

· Avoid overheating and treat fever promptly. During pregnancy, a woman should avoid overheating and treat fever promptly. Overheating can be caused by a fever or exposure to high temperatures (such as getting in a hot tub) that increases a woman’s core temperature. Overheating can increase a woman’s chance of having a baby with certain birth defects.

Having a baby is a special, life-changing experience, but it can also present challenges for new parents. Parents of a child with birth defects can prepare for their child’s needs by learning about their child’s condition. This knowledge can equip parents to make the best possible choices for their child’s health.

Physicians at Atrium Health Navicent Women’s Care Maternal Fetal Medicine and the Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital play a critical role in identifying birth defects during pregnancy, which allows for early recognition and intervention following delivery.

“Birth Defect Awareness Month provides an opportunity to raise awareness about early identification of birth defects, spread the word about advances in medical and surgical interventions and allow families to have an opportunity to seek proper care that’s leading to more babies surviving and leading fuller, healthier lives,” said Dr. Mitch Rodriguez, a neonatologist and medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and business development officer for Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital.

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About Atrium Health Navicent

Atrium Health Navicent is the leading provider of healthcare in central and south Georgia and is committed to its mission of elevating health and well-being through compassionate care. Atrium Health Navicent provides high-quality, personalized care in 53 specialties at more than 50 facilities throughout the region. As part of the largest, integrated, nonprofit health system in the Southeast, it is also able to tap into some of the nation’s leading medical experts and specialists with Atrium Health, allowing it to provide the best care close to home – including advanced innovations in virtual medicine and care. Throughout its 125-year history in the community, Atrium Health Navicent has remained dedicated to enhancing health and wellness for individuals throughout the region through nationally recognized quality care, community health initiatives and collaborative partnerships. It is also one of the leading teaching hospitals in the region, helping to ensure viability for rural health care for the next generation. For more information, please visit