Bread, New Year’s Resolutions and Healthy Babies

By Vinita Oberoi Leedom, MPH, CIC
MCH Planning and Evaluation Program Manager

This Birth Defects Prevention Month, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite table-top heroes: Bread. Mouthwatering, crumbly, soft, flakey, warm crust. If that doesn’t sound delicious enough, what if you potentially saved yourself some dough (over $20,000 dollars a year for some birth defects) and the heartache of seeing your baby sick all because you ate fortified bread just prior to becoming pregnant?

The fortification of bread products with folic acid was one of the great public health victories of the 1990s that has ultimately reduced the number of birth defects by nearly 1,000 cases per year. Consumption of folic acid is linked to a reduction in neural tube defects, birth defects in which an opening in the spinal cord or brain remains from the baby’s development. Women on low-carb or gluten-free diets may not get enough folate from bread. Some other food sources of folate, or vitamin B9, include dark, leafy green veggies, broccoli, beef liver, avocado, beans and folic acid supplements of course. Yum!

Like many public health efforts, fortification is done behind the scenes so that public health is improved without majorly interrupting anyone’s daily routine. However, fortified bread is not enough. To improve your chances of a healthy baby, don’t let your New Year’s resolutions become stale:

  1. Reach and maintain a healthy weight and get diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic medical conditions under control. Check out “Healthy Weight” by CDC for some tips and see a health care provider regularly.
  2. Plan ahead for a healthy pregnancy. If you are planning a pregnancy, get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day and see your provider.
  3. Drop that cigarette (in an ashtray). Always avoid smoking cigarettes. Smoking makes all health problems worse. Need some help with quitting? Call the SC Tobacco Quitline at 1-800 QUIT NOW. Also, avoid alcohol at any time during pregnancy. It can cause all sorts of medical problems for babies.
  4. Avoid marijuana and other “street drugs”. A woman who uses marijuana or other “street” drugs during pregnancy can have a baby who is born preterm, of low birth weight, or has other health problems, such as birth defects. Women using marijuana for medical reasons should speak with their doctor about an alternative therapy with pregnancy-specific safety data.
  5. Prevent infections. Some easy steps to prevent infections include frequent handwashing, cooking meat until it’s well-done, and staying away from people who have an infection.
  6. Discuss vacation plans with your health care provider. Some places have local transmission of Zika virus, which is associated with serious brain defects in infants.
  7. One more time: Talk with your health care provider. Talk to a health care provider about any medications you are taking and also about getting vaccinated. Some routine vaccines can actually prevent birth defects.

While research is still being done on the causes of many birth defects, these aren’t half-baked recommendations. They have been tested, and have shown to improve the chances of a healthy baby. The SC Birth Defects Program (SCBDP) is working to gather information on all babies born with birth defects in our state. SCBDP conducts active surveillance of more than 50 birth defects from all of South Carolina’s delivering hospitals. Learn more about us here.

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