Preventing Birth Defects

Key points

  • Birth defects can happen for many reasons. Not all birth defects can be prevented.
  • You can take steps before and during pregnancy to help you and your baby be as healthy as you can be.
  • Staying healthy during pregnancy can help give you and your baby a great start.
Two young women of reproductive age smile looking at a tablet.

Steps you can take

Talk with your healthcare provider

If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, talking with your healthcare provider is an important step. Regular visits with your provider before and during pregnancy are important. Try to keep all prenatal care appointments. Be sure to talk with your provider about:

  • Medical conditions that may affect pregnancy.
  • Whether anyone in your family was born with a birth defect.
  • Medications you take, and before starting or stopping any medication.
  • Vaccinations recommended during pregnancy.

Avoid harmful substances

Using nicotine containing products (cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or vape cartridges), drinking alcohol, or using illicit drugs can cause problems during pregnancy. This includes premature birth, birth defects, and infant death.

If you can't stop drinking, smoking, or using drugs, get help. Resources are available. Contact your healthcare provider, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, or find a local support group, like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Take care of your overall health

An important part of having a healthy pregnancy is making sure your health needs are being met.

  • Manage existing health conditions, such as diabetes.
  • Prevent infections, such as COVID-19 and cytomegalovirus.
  • Treat fevers higher than 101oF.
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid hot tubs or other environments that might lead to overheating.
Young woman smiles taking a vitamin.
Prenatal vitamins contain many vitamins important during pregnancy, including folic acid.

Get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day

Folic acid is a B vitamin. Having enough folic acid in your body before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. You can get folic acid from fortified foods such as cereals, supplements, or a combination of the two.

Importance of Folic Acid‎

Having a high enough amount of folate (vitamin B9) in your blood is important. Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy can help prevent an NTD. Folic acid is the only form of folate proven to help prevent NTDs.