Florida Recognizes January As Birth Defects Prevention Month

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The Florida Department of Health (DOH) acknowledges January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month and January 7-14 as National Folic Acid Awareness Week. DOH recognizes the severe impact birth defects have on Florida's families and children. Each year, birth defects affect one in 33 newborns in Florida, are one of the leading causes of infant mortality, and contribute significantly to long-term disabilities.

"Babies born with birth defects and related deficiencies are a serious matter in Florida and around the world," said DOH Deputy Secretary of Children's Medical Services Joseph Chiaro, M.D., FAAP. "Our surveillance program allows us to monitor the numbers and types of birth defects that are occurring so we can develop prevention, intervention and referral programs to assist affected individuals, families and their health care providers."

Some commonly occurring birth defects include:

Congenital Heart Defects: disorders of the heart present at birth, which affect about one in 100-200 babies

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Chromosomal Abnormalities: disorders involving chromosomes, affecting about one in 200 babies

Orofacial Clefts: disorders of the lip and/or roof of the mouth, affecting about one in 700-1,000 babies

Neural Tube Defects (NTDs): disorders of the spine (spina bifida) and brain (anencephaly) which affect about one in 1,000 pregnancies

Spina bifida and anencephaly are serious birth defects. In 2004, approximately 73 infants in Florida were born with NTDs. To reduce this number, women who are capable of becoming pregnant should have 400 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid every day. Since NTDs occur early in pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, women should take folic acid before becoming pregnant and continue during early pregnancy. Folic acid can be obtained from multivitamins, dietary supplements and fortified foods, in addition to eating a diet containing folate-rich foods such as spinach and other dark leafy greens, beans and peas.

DOH recommends that all women plan their pregnancies and schedule a pre-pregnancy checkup to talk with their health care provider about maintaining a healthy diet and incorporating exercise. Because some birth defects are preventable, it is important to discuss pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, seizures, family history of birth defects, as well as any possible exposures to hazardous chemicals. A woman who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy should avoid alcohol, smoking, illegal drugs and medications which can cause birth defects and pregnancy complications.

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