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Prevent Birth Defects

Woman using insect repellent

Learn how you can prevent infections before and during pregnancy to help protect you and your developing baby from birth defects.

Some infections before and during pregnancy can hurt you and your developing baby. They can cause serious illness, birth defects, and lifelong disabilities, such as hearing loss. Women can lower their risk of having a baby born with a birth defect by following some basic health guidelines.  This is important because many birth defects happen very early during pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages all women and their loved ones to “Prevent to Protect: Prevent infections for baby’s protection.”

How Many Babies Are Born With a Birth Defect?

Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part or parts of the body such as the heart, brain, or foot. Birth defects are common, costly, and critical conditions that affect 1 in 33 babies born in the United States.

How Can I Prevent Birth Defects?

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but there are things that a woman can do before and during pregnancy to increase her chance of having a healthy baby:

  • Get Vaccinated.
    • Vaccines are an important part of planning and having a healthy pregnancy. If you are planning to get pregnant, check with your healthcare provider to make sure you are up-to-date on your vaccines.
      • Chickenpox (varicella) and rubella infections during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. If you need a varicella or MMR vaccine, you should get it at least one month before getting pregnant.
    • If you are pregnant now, healthcare providers recommend you get two vaccines during your pregnancy to help protect you now and your baby after birth:
      • The Tdap vaccine helps protect against whooping cough (pertussis).
      • A flu shot helps protect against influenza.
  • Prevent Insect Bites.
    • Insect bites can be more than just annoying and itchy; they can cause serious birth defects. Mosquito bites can transmit Zika virus, which can cause a small head (microcephaly) and severe birth defects of the brain. Protect yourself and your family from insect bites by using insect repellant, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants when outside, and avoiding travel to areas with Zika virus.
  • Practice Good Hygiene.
    • A common virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV) can cause problems for some babies, including microcephaly and hearing loss. A woman who is infected with CMV can pass the virus to her developing baby during pregnancy. Women may be able to lessen their risk of getting CMV by reducing contact with saliva and urine from babies and young children. The saliva and urine of children with CMV have high amounts of the virus. If you are pregnant, you can avoid getting a child’s saliva in your mouth by, for example, not sharing food, utensils, or cups with a child. Also, you should wash your hands after changing diapers. These cannot eliminate your risk of getting CMV, but may lessen the chances of getting it.
  • Talk to Your Healthcare Provider.
    • Be sure to ask your healthcare provider about how you can prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other infections before and during pregnancy. When you are pregnant, you can become infected with the same STDs as women who aren’t pregnant. Pregnant women can pass syphilis to their developing babies during pregnancy, which can affect the health of both mom and baby.

These tips can help prevent infections that could harm you and your developing baby. For more tips on preventing infections before and during pregnancy, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/infections.html.

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