Vail Daily Health: Parents can assess pregnancy risks
Vail Daily Medical Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –There is no shortage of dialog about factors that can elevate the risk of birth defects in children. In fact, the amount of information out there can make the average adult’s head spin.
Because March is National Birth Defect Prevention Month, it might be helpful to shed some light on certain topics for expecting parents and those considering pregnancy.
While we could fill volumes with information, here are some things to think about that may prompt conversation with your physician, family, spouse or significant other. You may choose to see your physician prior to conception if there are any definitive concerns regarding future pregnancy or to discuss what you can do to evaluate and maintain a healthy pregnancy at your first prenatal visit.
That being said, I’ll break this column into two distinct sections: one assessing risk factors and the other explaining genetic testing that is available.
Embrace a healthy lifestyle. Do not smoke, drink alcohol (even in moderation) or use drugs while pregnant. Even the smallest amounts of alcohol during a pregnancy can influence the health of an unborn child.
Consult your physician about your exercise regimen and don’t begin any new activities during pregnancy without first discussing it with your physician. Adopt, or continue with, a healthy diet including taking a prenatal vitamin which provides a sufficient amount of folic acid (at least 4 micrograms) that promotes healthy brain and spinal cord development in developing babies.
Are you in good health at the time of conception and throughout the pregnancy? Do you have hypertension, diabetes or other conditions that may affect your baby? Additionally, are you taking medications that may increase the risk of a birth defect? Consult your physician about these factors.
Often, if you have a pre-existing medical condition that is controlled prior to your pregnancy, the risk to your developing baby can be minimized. Certain medications may increase the risk of birth defects. These medicines can usually be substituted with ones that pose little risk to your pregnancy while still controlling your medical issues.
Personal and family history are other factors to explore when considering risks. If you or your spouse have a family history of birth defects, genetic disorders or previous pregnancies with defects, your baby’s chance of having a birth defect may be increased. Discuss these with your physician.
Age matters. It’s true. As mothers get older they can carry a higher risk of birth defects in their offspring as well as an increased risk for certain pregnancy-related medical issues. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have children past 35 or that if you are older than 35 and pregnant you’ll have issues. However, statistically speaking, the risks increase with each year of age. Discuss your age, and the risk it may carry, with your physician.
Non-invasive and invasive testing for birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities are available for all expecting mothers beginning in the late first trimester (around 10 to 13 weeks) and beyond. Some of the tests and routine screenings are non-invasive in nature and will help parents understand the percentage of risk for certain defects such as Down syndrome and trisomy 18.
Parents with test results indicating high risk of defect can explore further testing, including invasive techniques, to better diagnose potential defects. Invasive tests, such as chorionic villus sampling and amniocentesis, give parents definitive answers about certain chromosomal abnormalities.
These types of tests do carry some risk to unborn babies given their invasive nature. They can be used for initial screening or as a second line of testing if you are determined to be “high risk” after non-invasive screening. Again, discussing testing options and your specific risk factors with your physician is the best way to make informed decisions about the screening options available.
Education is one of the most helpful tools in making informed decisions about getting pregnant and evaluating the risk of birth defects in pregnancy. Your physician is there to help you through the process, educating you and informing you about decisions pertaining to your pregnancy. As with many things, knowing what questions to ask is a substantial step in choosing the right course for an individual and ensuring the healthiest results for your pregnancy.
Dr. Keith Samuels is board certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and practices at Vail Valley OB/GYN, a Vail Valley Medical Center practice. He can be reached at 970-569-7750 for consultation.