Tag Archives: Birth Defects

Folic Acid Awareness Week: This Vitamin Helps Guard Against Birth Defects

This week — January 7-13 — is Folic Acid Awareness Week. Did you know that taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can prevent up to 70 percent of some serious birth defects of the brain and spine?

Folic acid is a B vitamin that is necessary for proper cell growth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service recommend that all women between the ages of 15 and 45 consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily to prevent two types of neural tube defects, spina bifida and anencephaly. These birth defects develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is why it’s important to have enough folic acid in your body BEFORE becoming pregnant and to continue getting enough during early pregnancy.

Every woman needs folic acid daily, whether she’s planning to get pregnant or not. For one thing, almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.  Also, folic acid helps the body make healthy new cells. The body — the skin, hair, nails and other parts of the body — makes healthy new cells daily.
Women who could possibly become pregnant can consume 400 mcg of folic acid every day by:

  • taking a daily multi-vitamin containing folic acid, and
  • eating fortified foods like grains, pastas, or breakfast cereals.

For more information on folic acid, visit the CDC website or the National Birth Defects Prevention Network website.

FolicAcid Fact Sheet

DHEC And Its Partners Work To Prevent Infant Mortality

By Adrianna Bradley

The first year of life for newborn babies are exciting and scary. As proud new moms and dads fawn over their bundle of joy that joy is tempered by the loss of sleep and a fear of losing their child to some illness, accident or other condition.

Infant deaths are a great concern for our country and the world. Its impact on families and society is devastating.

DHEC monitors infant deaths

DHEC annually collects data to monitor infant death rates across South Carolina.

“Infant mortality has always been a long-standing indicator of population health across the board,” said Kimberly Seals, director of DHEC’s Bureau of Maternal Child Health. “We measure infant mortality to have a broad perspective of population health overall.”

South Carolina’s infant death rates from 2006 to 2016 have dropped 16 percent. The positive trend in reducing infant deaths is due to the work of DHEC staff, our public health partners, parents, and doctors. Some of those partners are the S.C. Hospital Association, PASOs, and the March of Dimes South Carolina Chapter.

Campaigns and programs help curb deaths

DHEC also conducts education campaigns and support programs to address prenatal and post-natal care for infants. These campaigns, programs, and initiatives are vital in keeping S.C.’s babies from becoming a death statistic.

These efforts are critical and on any given day, things can go wrong and they can go wrong quickly. New and first-time mom, Angelica Smith, is familiar with how the routine can quickly turn into an emergency.

It happened March of 2016 when a DHEC newborn home visit nurse, Ann Gordon, went to visit the new mom and baby at their Cherokee County home. Ann was talking with the family when she noticed Angelica had a strange look on her face as she held baby Jacob.

“I looked at him and noticed that his face had started turning blue,” Angelica Smith said.

“I said, Angelica, let me see the baby! He was not breathing and he had no heartbeat,” Ann Gordon said. “I told Angelica to call 911 and started doing CPR on the baby.”

Thanks to this DHEC program and Ann’s actions, little Jacob’s life was saved.

Leading causes of death

Data shows the leading causes of death for newborns are the following:

  • Birth defects
  • Preterm birth and low birth weights
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Accidents

DHEC is working with its partners to continue its progress in keeping even more of the youngest and most vulnerable alive. DHEC is determined to give every child in South Carolina the best chance possible for a happy and productive life.

View the below video for a closer look at DHEC’s efforts to address infant mortality in our state.

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.

Making a PACT for prevention: Raising Awareness about Birth Defects

By Vinita Oberoi Leedom​, SC Birth Defects Program Manager


Every year in South Carolina, approximately 1,800 infants are born with a birth defect. That means roughly 1 in 33 babies born in our state each year will have a birth defect. Babies who survive and live with birth defects are at an increased risk for developing many lifelong physical, cognitive, and social challenges.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) this January, National Birth Defects Prevention Month, to raise awareness of the prevalence of birth defects and strategies that reduce the risk of birth defects and their complications.

Although not all birth defects can be prevented, all women who could become pregnant or are pregnant can lower their risk of having a baby with a birth defect by following some basic health guidelines throughout their reproductive years. This includes, “making a PACT for prevention”:

Plan ahead.

  • Get as healthy as you can before you get pregnant.
  • Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.

Avoid harmful substances.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking.
  • Be careful with harmful exposures at work and home.

Choose a healthy lifestyle.

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats and oils.
  • Be physically active.
  • Work to get medical conditions like diabetes under control.

Talk to your doctor.

  • Get a medical checkup.
  • Discuss all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
  • Talk about your family history.

Efforts to raise awareness of this prevalent issue help to provide hope for reducing the overall number of birth defects. The South Carolina Birth Defects Program has resource materials available on our website to assist you in raising awareness of birth defects as a public health issue in your community. For more information about birth defects, please click here.