Coleen Boyle, PhD, MS Hyg, is the director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NCBDDD’s mission is to promote the health of babies, children and adults and enhance the potential for full, productive living.
Each year, we at CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) join many organizations in recognizing January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Our state-based tracking system shows that birth defects affect one in 33 babies and are a leading cause of infant death in the United States. More than 5,000 infants die each year because of birth defects. For me and my colleagues at NCBDDD, those numbers aren’t just numbers. They represent real babies and families and underscore our activities to promote the health of babies, children and adults and enhance the potential for full, productive living.
Every day, NCBDDD’s National Birth Defects Prevention Study teaches us about exposures or other factors during pregnancy that might raise or lower the risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Through this important work, we’ve learned that women who take certain medications, are obese, have uncontrolled diabetes, smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol during pregnancy increase their risk of having a baby born with a birth defect. We are turning this science into action, but we cannot do this alone.
This month and throughout the year, we invite you to draw attention to the ways we know a woman can increase her chance of having a healthy baby—before she becomes pregnant: take folic acid; have regular medical checkups; make sure medical conditions, such as diabetes, are under control; talk to a health care provider about medication use; have tests for infectious diseases and get necessary vaccinations; and do not use cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs. It’s important to remember that many birth defects happen very early during pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant, so planning a pregnancy is key and can help make a difference.
Like many of you, we are working toward a day when every child is born with the best health possible. We encourage you to use our birth defects prevention resources to help us do that: www.cdc.gov/birthdefects.