WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — January is Birth Defects Prevention Month. January 9-15 is Folic Acid Awareness Week and the March of Dimes is reminding women capable of having a baby to add folic acid to their diet, before starting a family.
Together with the March of Dimes, Latin pop star Thalia is fighting to save babies from premature birth. Thalia says, ” I’m not pregnant, but I want my 9 months someday. Nine months of a healthy pregnancy is the best gift you can give your future baby.” More and more babies are born too early and those who survive may have serious health problems.
“Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing racial/ethnic minority group in this country and more Hispanic babies are being born prematurely each year,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “But there are certain steps that women can take to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. With this new campaign, we’re reaching out to all women, including Hispanic women, so that more babies can be born healthy and full-term, and we’re delighted that Thalia has joined us in this effort.”
If all women of childbearing age took 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, before and during pregnancy, it could help prevent up to as much as 70 percent of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects, (NTDs), serious birth defects of the brain and spine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Julia Flores of Chicago knows the benefits of folic acid. Her first child, 10-year-old Gabriel was born with a brain stem malformation. Her second baby, Nicholas, was born three years later with spina bifida and lived only three hours.
Before her next pregnancy, Mrs. Flores’ doctor prescribed 800 micrograms of folic acid daily. Her third
baby, Jacob, who will be five in May, was born healthy.
“Thank goodness my doctor knew about folic acid and prescribed it for me. I’m not planning to have any more children, but I still take it in a multivitamin,” said Mrs. Flores. “I tell all the women I know to take folic acid. Just take it. My sister’s doctor instructed her to take it because of my history — and her babies are fine.”
Since 1995, the March of Dimes and the CDC have recommended that all women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, before conception and continuing into the early months of pregnancy. NTDs occur in the first few weeks after conception, often before a woman knows she’s pregnant and affects about 3,000 pregnancies annually.
Unfortunately, only one-third of women take a multivitamin containing the B vitamin folic acid daily, according to a Gallup survey conducted for the March of Dimes and the CDC.
“Folic acid is the most important vitamin women can take to help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine, and it’s most important they take it before they get pregnant,” said Janis Biermann, March of Dimes vice president of Education and Health.
“Folic acid has been proven to be the most effective and reliable method to prevent spina bifida and anencephaly,” said Dr. Jose Cordero, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. There are many ways a woman can increase the folic acid in her diet.
Enriched grain foods in the United States must contain 140 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of grain. Good sources of folic acid or folate, which occurs naturally in food, include: enriched grain products, such as bread and pasta; fortified breakfast cereals; beans; green leafy vegetables; and orange
“It is important for women to understand that enriched grains are a primary source of folic acid, which is critical during their childbearing years,” said Judi Adams, MS, RD, president of the Grain Foods Foundation.
“You never know what the New Year will bring. So, even if you’re not yet planning to have a baby, when you start the New Year, resolve to help give your baby a healthy start in life,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes.
About 150,000 babies are born annually with a birth defect. Some 20 percent of infant deaths are caused by birth defects, the National Center for Health Statistics estimates.
The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, it funds programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies and in 2003 launched a campaign to address the increasing rate of premature birth.
For more information, visit the Web site at http://marchofdimes.com or its Spanish language Web site at http://nacersano.org .