Preventing birth defects before, and in early stages, of pregnancy

Published: Jan. 30, 2018 at 1:58 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 30, 2018 at 12:18 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The first thing we do when a baby is born is count fingers and toes, right?

But the reality is, birth defects go way beyond what we can see when a newborn is handed to its mother.

January is Birth Defects Awareness Month.

Dr. Amy Richards, an OB-GYN with Covenant Medical Group, says most birth defects come early in a pregnancy.

She warns, "Most birth defects have formed by about eight weeks, which if you think about a positive pregnancy test, you're usually about four weeks along. So being cognizant of things before you become pregnant is really the most important thing and as soon as you know you're pregnant, seeking medical care to help support yourself in the pregnancy."

Dr. Richards says two to four percent of all babies are born with a structural anomaly, anything from an extra finger to a heart defect that requires surgery. That does not include all the possible learning disorders that affect some children.

She says "the most development occurs in the first trimester of the pregnancy."

So what happens when a woman finds out she's pregnant and thinks 'Oh, what have I done?'

Dr. Richards says she hears that all the time.

She says, "Half of all births were unanticipated blessings. Because of this, a lot of women come to me and say 'I was smoking or I was drinking and I didn't know I was pregnant.' Well, once that insult is done, there's nothing we can do to change it, but I tell my patients if you're not on a reliable form of birth control, if there's a chance that you could become pregnant, to be cognizant of the activities you are participating and the medications you are taking."

The March of Dimes has long recommended a prenatal vitamin with folic acid. Dr. Richards explains folic aid helps with fetal development of the neural tube which ultimately is the brain and the spinal cord. She says folic acid is something that would never hurt a woman, but the benefit is great for a developing child.

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