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Raising Awareness about Birth Defects in Arkansas

Health facilities work to educate women and young families on their prevention.
With January being National Birth Defects Prevention Month, two Arkansas hospitals are teaming up to raise awareness about how common, costly and critical birth defects are for the state.

The following news release has the details:

A baby is born every 14 minutes in Arkansas. Every five hours a baby is born with a birth defect, and every four days a baby in the state dies from a birth defect. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and the Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), along with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) to increase awareness of birth defects, the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. They're also explaining the effectiveness of folic acid in preventing many common birth defects.

Through the rest of January, ACHRI and UAMS will be actively focusing on raising awareness among health care professionals and the general public about the frequency with which birth defects occur in the United States, and the steps that can be taken by young girls, women and families to prevent them. The risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices and medical interventions before and during pregnancy. 

The wide-ranging consequences that birth defects have on Arkansas families have led Gov. Mike Beebe to proclaim January as Birth Defects Prevention Awareness Month throughout the state. Arkansans are encouraged to learn more about birth defects, as well as how they can prevent them during this important awareness campaign.

There are many different kinds of birth defects including defects of the brain and spine, congenital heart defects, cleft lip or palate and a variety of genetic syndromes such as Down syndrome. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby's health, and some have life-threatening or life-long effects. In fact, across the country, 40,000 cases of congenital heart defects (approximately 1 in 110 live births) are reported annually with around 500 cases occurring in Arkansas.

"Most people are unaware of how common, costly and critical birth defects are in the United States and how they affect families right here in Arkansas," said Charlotte Hobbs, MD, PhD, director of the Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention at ACHRI and professor of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine. "The health of both parents prior to pregnancy can affect the risk of having a child with a birth defect. Diet, life-style choices, factors in the environment, health conditions and medications before and during pregnancy can all play a role in preventing or increasing the risk of birth defects," explains Dr. Hobbs.

Research studies report several important steps young girls and women of child-bearing age can take to help prevent birth defects. Women who may become pregnant or are currently pregnant are advised to:
  • Take 400 mcg of folic acid (B9) daily from the start of menstruation through menopause.
  • Eat a healthy diet and aim for a healthy weight.
  • Keep diabetes under control.
  • Get a medical checkup before pregnancy and address specific health issues including weight control, control of diabetes and any medications taken.
  • Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Stop drinking alcohol prior to pregnancy or as soon into pregnancy as possible.
  • Not take illegal drugs.
  • Plan carefully; 50-percent of all pregnancies are unplanned. Use contraception if taking medications that increase the risk for birth defects.
  • Know your family medical history and potential genetic risks.
"Small steps ranging from taking a multivitamin or folic acid pill every day starting as young as 10 years old to visiting a health care provider before pregnancy can go a long way in preventing birth defects," says Dr. Hobbs. In addition to its efforts in prevention, ACHRI is working on the state and national levels to advance research on possible causes of birth defects. "We do not know the cause of most birth defects and because many babies with birth defects are born to women who have made excellent health choices prior to becoming pregnant, it is so important that we continue our extensive research to determine causes and prevent negative outcomes for families who fully expect to have healthy babies," Dr. Hobbs said.

ACHRI and UAMS are actively participating in National Birth Defects Prevention Month by distributing information, which includes education on the importance of daily intake of folic acid, to women and their health care providers across the state, participating in health fairs and special events where young families are present, as well as offering presentations to organizations, schools and churches.

Learn more by visiting these websites:
Congenital Heart Defects (Centers for Disease Control)
Folic Acid (Centers for Disease Control)
Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy and Baby (March of Dimes)

Click here for more information about NBDPN.
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