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Birth Defects

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Last Edited: 9/30/2010

Birth Defects: Prevention and Treatment

Prevention Before and During Pregnancy

While not all birth defects can be prevented, women can take some actions to increase their chances of having a healthy infant.

Before becoming pregnant:

  • Plan your pregnancy-- many birth defects happen very early in pregnancy, often before most women know that they are pregnant
  • See a health care provider
  • Control any pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes and seizures
  • Take a daily multivitamin that has 400 milligrams of folic acid

While pregnant:

  • See a health care provider regularly
  • Eat a well balanced diet
  • Take a daily multivitamin that has 400 milligrams of folic acid
  • Avoid smoking, drugs, and alcohol
  • Get enough rest
  • Exercise moderately
  • Avoid contact with chemicals at home or the workplace that may harm the fetus

Minimizing exposure to chemicals in the environment

While the relationships between most chemicals and birth defects are unknown, pregnant women can take steps to minimize their exposure to chemicals in the environment.  The CDC recommends that pregnant women should:

  • Wear protective gear such as gloves and/or facemask when indicated
  • Avoid fresh paint
    • Also be especially careful to avoid chipping or peeling paint in homes or buildings built before 1978, as this paint may contain lead
  • Avoid eating fish with high levels of mercury
  • Avoid using pesticides
  • Avoid using cleaning products containing solvents
  • Limit outdoor activities on days when air quality is expected to be poor

More information can be found on California Birth Defects Monitoring Program's Reducing the Risk of Birth Defects Fact Sheet (PDF) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Having a Healthy Pregnancy.


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Treatment varies depending on the type and severity of the birth defect.  Depending on severity, many infants with birth defects undergo surgery in the first year of life.  Some birth defects cannot be treated.

Learn about treatment options for the types of birth defects described on this website.


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