Birth defects prevention

1/25/2017, 4 p.m.
January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. But for many of those that work in the Will County Health Department ...

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. But for many of those that work in the Will County Health Department it’s a battle they fight every day of the year.

Registered Nurses Sylvia Muniz and Loy Rosen are the managers of case management programs such as Better Birth Outcomes, High Risk Infant Follow-Up, and children in foster care. They say that the most common issues still seen in children that relate to birth defects continue to be late cognitive, physical, and speech development.

The number one goal, as always, is prevention. And Muniz says the key to the prevention of birth defects is proper education and planning. “The bottom line is proper planning of your pregnancy, and to be in the best health possible by maintaining control of chronic medical conditions; avoiding exposure to substances like cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs; taking folic acid to prevent some birth defects, and seeking prenatal care early in the first trimester. It really is that simple.”

Both Muniz and Loy pointed out that there is the common truth that will never change: The umbilical cord is the baby’s lifeline. Any alcohol that is ingested or cigarette smoke that is inhaled, for example, goes into the baby’s bloodstream and may affect the fetus and the baby later in life.

Another thing that must be understood is that birth defects are rarely isolated cases. They are often related to another defect rooted in the body, with other problems that may come later. “A cleft-palate, for example,” said Loy, “can lead to a speech development problem later. And it may be tied to another birth defect. Nothing is an island. If only it were that simple. But these things are often tied together.”

Loy added that there is another major side note involved in the birth defects issue. “The white elephant in the room is the mental health crisis in this country. If someone with diabetes does not properly care for their body, and then they have a baby, you have a problem. And not treating mental illness properly is also a recipe for disaster when it comes to pregnancy. You end up with many mothers who have ‘self-medicated’ their illnesses, often with alcohol or drugs, and the baby is then in great danger. This is a major reason we need to stop seeing mental illness as a character flaw, and instead treat it as the disease that it is.”

Rosen added that the battle against birth defects is indeed a “holistic concept. So much of the battle is based on repetition and telling expectant and new mothers what they need to know”

Muniz said this is why a full team effort is needed. Obstetricians, nurses, the future mom herself, and her partner; all must work to have the future mom properly educated about her pregnancy to be as healthy as possible.

For more information please contact the Will County Health Department Family Case Management Program at 815-727-8505.