Skip to content
Maternal and Child Health

Preventing Birth Defects

Many birth defects can happen early in pregnancy, sometimes before a woman knows she is pregnant. Not all birth defects can be prevented, but you can increase your chance of having a healthy baby.

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Below are some tips and resources on how you can get ready for and have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

  • Take a vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.  Folic acid can help protect your unborn baby from birth defects of the brain and spinal cord called neural tube defects. Neural tube defects can occur during the first weeks of pregnancy, even before you know you are pregnant.
  • Foods with folic acid include: okra, pinto beans, navy beans, mustard greens, kale, spinach, chicken liver, beef liver, orange juice, asparagus, broccoli, avocado, green peas, cauliflower, tomato juice, peanuts, and cantaloupe.
  • Plan Your Pregnancy. It is important for you to be as healthy as possible before you become pregnant. Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can increase your risk of problems during your pregnancy if they are not well controlled.
  • Before becoming pregnant, schedule a check up and talk to your healthcare provider about ways to get ready for a healthy pregnancy.
  • Schedule an appointment for prenatal care as soon as you learn you are pregnant! This is the best way to avoid serious problems. If you need assistance in finding a prenatal care provider, call the Care Line at 1-800-868-0404.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. While you are pregnant, you are feeding yourself and your growing baby. Your baby depends on you to choose good food for both of you. The food you eat gives nutrients that you both need.
    • Eat less of foods like hamburgers, fried chicken, pizza, French fries, snack chips, soda pop, pastries and rich desserts.
    • Eat more of these foods:
      • Fruit Snacks like dried apples, dates, raisins, prunes, pineapple, apricots, peaches and strawberries.
      • Veggies like raw carrots, celery, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, peppers and cherry tomatoes.
      • Snacks like whole grain crackers, cheese, unbuttered popcorn, unsalted pretzels, trail mix and nuts.
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and street drugs. Every time a pregnant woman takes a drink, smokes or uses a drug, her unborn baby does, too.
    • Drinking any type of alcohol (beer, wine, liquor) can be harmful.
    • Alcohol, tobacco and drugs can cause a baby to be born too small, developmentally delayed or more likely to be sick. They can harm developing organs like the brain and heart. Only take medications that your health care provider has said you may take.
    • For free help quitting smoking, call the S.C. Tobacco Quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

Other Resources include:

Sources: CDC; Capital Area Healthy Start Coalition * Racial Disparity Task Force for Infant Health * 2110 South Adams Street, Suite B * Tallahassee, FL 32301