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Help Prevent Birth Defects

Friday, 01 25, 2013

Gwenda Bond or Beth Fisher
(502) 564-6786

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month in Kentucky and across the country. The month aims to remind the public of the importance of raising awareness in the hopes of lowering the rate of birth defects and infant mortality. This observance gives health officials the opportunity to call attention to the frequency of birth defects in the United States and the steps that can be taken to prevent them.

“Preventing birth defects begins prior to pregnancy,” said Dr. Ruth Ann Shepherd, director of the Division of Maternal and Child Health in the Kentucky Department for Public Health. “All women of child bearing age should be taking folic acid, even if they aren’t pregnant or even planning to become pregnant. The supplement helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine.”

Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality in Kentucky and contribute significantly to childhood morbidity and long-term disability.

“Most of us know someone affected by birth defects, so the opportunity to prevent the occurrence of such serious birth defects by simply taking a vitamin is something we should definitely try to take advantage of,” said Shepherd. “Many people don’t realize there are things they can do to prevent some birth defects.”

As part of the observance, Shepherd and her colleagues in the Department for Public Health join the Kentucky Folic Acid Partnership to emphasize the importance of folic acid intake and birth defect prevention.

 Folic Acid is a vitamin our bodies use to make new cells. When taken before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent certain serious birth defects.

 In Kentucky, about half of all pregnancies are unplanned. All women who are able to become pregnant need to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily.

 In order to prevent major birth defects, such as spina bifida, a woman needs to start taking folic acid at least one month prior to pregnancy and throughout pregnancy.  This can reduce the occurrence of serious birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine, called neural tube defects, by 50 to 70 percent.

 If you are not sure where to obtain folic acid or want more information, please contact your local health department or your local health care provider.

DPH is working with the Kentucky Folic Acid Partnership and other partners to prevent birth defects and promote healthy pregnancies. In addition to taking folic acid before and during pregnancy, women can take other steps for a  healthy pregnancy, including planning the pregnancy, getting any health issues treated before and during pregnancy, and seeing a doctor early in the pregnancy. It is also important to follow a healthy diet, avoid tobacco use and secondhand smoke and not drink any alcohol after becoming pregnant

For more information about birth defects or the importance of folic acid intake, visit http://chfs.ky.gov/dph/mch/cfhi/prenatalprogram.htm and www.kfap.org

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is home to most of the state's human services and health care programs, including Medicaid, the Department for Community Based Services and the Department for Public Health. CHFS is one of the largest agencies in state government, with nearly 8,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Commonwealth focused on improving the lives and health of Kentuckians.