By Katelynd Todd, NACCHO Health & Disability Fellow
January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month in the United States. A birth defect can be defined as a biochemical or physical abnormality that forms within an infant before or during birth. These defects are normally found within the first year of life. While some birth defects can be seen, like a cleft-lip, others are known as invisible disabilities, like a heart problem.
While not all birth defects are preventable, there are measures that can be taken to significantly reduce the number of birth defects in the United States. City and county health departments can focus on educating women or women planning a pregnancy on infection prevention.
Some simple tips to share are:
- Get vaccinated. Prior to becoming pregnant, women should become up-to-date on all vaccines. Two of the most commonly recommended vaccines to have during pregnancy are flu shots and the whooping cough vaccine. For general recommendations on which vaccines to get and when, families can visit: www.vaccines.gov/who_and_when/pregnant/index.html.
- Practice good hygiene. A very simple and important thing to remember is during pregnancy, wash your hands often with soap and water. Once the baby is born, it’s still equally important for people who have physical contact with the baby to practice good hand washing routines. Another tip is for families to avoid putting the baby’s cup, bottle or pacifier in their (the adult’s) mouths. Babies’ developing immune systems aren’t as strong as ours and can’t fight off germs as easily. Adults may be carrying germs that have not made us symptomatic but the baby could become very ill.
- Prevent insect bites. Pregnant women should take steps to reduce their risk of being bitten by a mosquito. To avoid contact with mosquitos and other insects that may be carrying diseases, wearlong-sleeved shirts and pants when outside and keep insects out of the home by keeping window screens intact and doors closed. Use Environmental Procection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellants to prevent insect bites. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellants are safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Talk to your healthcare provider. Healthcare providers can give mothers specific information about their circumstances and risks. Mothers-to-be should consider discussing ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections and other risks they may be exposed to, either from biological or environmental agents. Pregnant women should also discuss their travel plans with their providers to ensure they’re aware of Zika virus risk in possible travel destinations. The CDC has a list of travel health notices that identify current health issues related to specific destinations.
The NACCHO Health and Disability Fellowship is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cooperative Agreement #5NU38OT000172-05-00 and the NACCHO Disability and Health program.