The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the office of Governor Greitens have proclaimed January 2018 as Missouri Birth Defects Prevention and Awareness Month in coordination with the National Birth Defects Network, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, the Teratology Society and MothertoBaby.

During the 2018 campaign “Prevent to Protect: Prevent Infections for Baby’s Protection,” special emphasis is focused on the importance of preventing infections before and during pregnancy that can increase the risk of having a baby with a birth defect, which is the most common cause of death in the first year of life and the second most common cause of death in children aged one to four years.

Although not all birth defects can be prevented, many steps can be taken to increase a woman’s chance of having a healthy baby. All women capable of becoming pregnant should abstain from alcohol, tobacco and avoid secondhand smoke and other harmful chemicals, including illegal drugs, in addition too:

• Practice healthy habits: Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day; eat a healthy diet and be physically active; and seek prenatal care early in your pregnancy.

• Get vaccinated: Get the flu shot and the whooping cough vaccine; and become up-to-date with all vaccines before getting pregnant.

• Prevent insect bites: Use insect repellent; and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside.

• Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands often with soap and water; and avoid putting a young child’s cup or pacifier in your mouth.

• Talk to your health care provider: Ask about how you can prevent infections, such as Zika virus; and discuss how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

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