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Kansas raises awareness for birth defect prevention

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jan 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-03 19:00:29-05

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a baby is born with a birth defect in the U.S. every 4.5 minutes.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is working to raise awareness about birth defect prevention.

Dr. Tara Chettiar, chair of Obsetrics and Gynecology at Saint Luke's South, said making sure a baby is born healthy starts before a woman even gets pregnant.

"Usually by the time a woman has found out she's pregnant, a lot of her options and a lot of the adjustments that could be made — that's already past," Chettiar said.

Chettiar said many risk factors are pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, drug usage and some prescription medications such as anti-acne or anti-seizure. She said the important prevention steps women should take start with doctor visits before they are pregnant.

"We love to sit down and have what we call pre-conception visits," Chettiar said.

Those visits allow doctors to go over medical history and suggest changes to medication.

Another crucial step women should be taking, according to Chettiar, is taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid, which has been proven to prevent neural tube defects that cause Spina Bifida.

"What we found is that increasing folic acid supplementations have really decreased those numbers for us," Chettiar said.

In Kansas, about 3 percent of babies are born with birth defects every year, which is the same as the national average.

Department of Health and Environment Special Health Services Director Heather Smith said adopting health behaviors such as exercising and eating right before getting pregnant are crucial. Smith said it's also important to make sure a woman's vaccines are up to date.

Chettiar said it's also important to keep in mind that not all birth defects are preventable.

"We do see a lot of that, and there can be a lot of guilt with that, too, so talk to your doctor if you have any concerns," Chettiar said.