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Avoid Harmful Substances

pregnant Avoid Harmful Substances blackpatient

In honor of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, make a PACT to get healthy, physically and mentally, before and during pregnancy to increase your chances of having a healthy baby. Avoiding harmful home and workplace exposures is one important step.

Women can lower their risk of having a baby born with a birth defect by following some basic health guidelines throughout their reproductive years. This is important because many birth defects happen very early during pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. For this year’s National Birth Defects Prevention Month, we encourage all women and their loved ones to make a PACT for prevention.

Plan ahead
Avoid harmful substances
Choose a healthy lifestyle
Talk to your healthcare provider

This week, we are focusing on avoiding harmful substances.

Avoid harmful substances at home or work

Most women can safely keep working in their job during pregnancy. But some jobs involve exposures, like chemical or physical agents, that might be harmful to pregnant or breastfeeding women or that have been linked to birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes. If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, reducing these exposures before and during pregnancy can help increase your chances for having a healthy baby. It is also important to protect your home and family from chemicals that might be brought home by you or other family members from work.

Even if your job involves some hazards, there are things you can do to protect yourself:

For more information about reproductive health and the workplace, visit Reproductive Health and the Workplace.

  • Ask questions about hazards in your workplace. You have a legal right to receive information on hazards in your workplace.
  • Protect yourself from exposure by using protective equipment correctly and following best safety practices.
  • Share information about your job with your doctor.
  • Learn how to avoid bringing hazards home on your skin, clothes, and shoes.
  • Find information on specific exposures and workplace health topics, including how CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) can help.

For more information about reproductive health and the workplace, visit Reproductive Health and the Workplace.

In addition to For more information about reproductive health and the workplace, visit Reproductive Health and the Workplace.

Avoid drinking alcohol at any time during pregnancy

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby. Alcohol that’s in the woman’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). The best advice is to stop drinking alcohol when you start trying to get pregnant.

Avoid smoking

Some of the dangers of smoking during pregnancy include premature birth, stillbirth, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In addition, the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report confirmed that smoking in early pregnancy can cause orofacial clefts in babies. Orofacial clefts are birth defects that occur very early in pregnancy, so quitting smoking before becoming pregnant is best. Quitting smoking can be hard, but it is one of the best ways you can protect yourself and your baby’s health. For more information on smoking in pregnancy and how it can harm you and your baby’s heath, visit Tobacco Use and Pregnancy.

CDC Activities: Birth Defects

CDC works to identify causes of birth defects, find opportunities to prevent them, and improve the health of those living with birth defects.

  • Tracking: Accurately tracking birth defects is important for prevention. CDC funds 14 states to track major birth defects using population-based methods. State systems use the data from population-based tracking to help direct birth defects prevention activities and refer children affected by birth defects to needed services.
  • Research: CDC funds the Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, which collaborate on large studies such as the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (births 1997-2011) and the Birth Defects Study To Evaluate Pregnancy exposureS, also called BD-STEPS, (began in 2014). These studies work to identify what might raise or lower the risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Other CDC research focuses on health services use and costs associated with birth defects, which are important considerations in helping children with birth defects reach their full potential.
  • Prevention: CDC and its partners can use what they learn through research to prevent birth defects.
    • Folic acid: We learned long ago that getting folic acid before and during the early weeks of pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spine (e.g., spina bifida and anencephaly). A 1996 policy to add folic acid to many foods helps to prevent many of these birth defects.
    • Preconception care: CDC and its partners also work to educate women about the importance of preconception health through a campaign called Show Your Love.
  • Improving the lives of individuals with birth defects: Babies who have birth defects often need special care and treatments to survive and thrive developmentally. Birth defects tracking systems provide one way to identify and refer children for services they need as early as possible. Early intervention (treatment for delays in physical, intellectual, communication, social-emotional, and adaptive development) is vital to improving outcomes for babies born with a birth defect.

Page last updated: January 12, 2015
Copyright © 2015 Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs

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