BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — In 2021, 43 infants in North Dakota were afflicted with birth defects — structural changes that can affect any part of a baby’s body, including their hearts, brains, and feet. The defects can negatively affect the lives of these babies and cause lifelong health problems, and at times even kill children.

In order to raise awareness of these conditions, organizations across the US — including the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services — have designated January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month.

The theme of this year’s campaign is “Healthy Communities, Healthy Babies’, and seeks to focus on the fact that roughly 1 in 33 babies that are born in the United States suffer with some form of birth defect. And although there’s no way to stop them all, people can take steps to reduce the amount of overall incidents.

“While we can’t prevent all birth defects, we can promote healthy choices before and during pregnancy to help lower the risk,” explained HHS Special Health Services director Kimberly Hruby in a press release. “Birth defects are a common cause of death in the first year of a baby’s life, but change happens through awareness.”

Here are a few of the healthy decisions that the HHS recommends to pregnant women to minimize the risk of birth defects in their babies.

  • Schedule constant visits with your health care provider to ensure your body is in the best possible shape before giving birth or becoming pregnant.
  • Reduce your risk of infections and be up to date with vaccines.
  • Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day — found in supplements, dark green vegetables, fruits, and nuts.
  • Avoid all harmful substances during pregnancy, including alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
  • Care for your body and mind before and during pregnancy.

With more individuals taking part in proper pregnancy care, as well as advances in medical care and treatment, those with birth defects have been able to live longer and happier lives. Recent estimates from HHS show the rates of infant deaths due to birth defects have declined by 10% in the US over recent years. Despite this, though, these conditions are still common: every 4.5 minutes, a baby is born in the United States with a major birth defect. The road to reducing birth defects as much as possible is long, but it’s also a road that we are making significant progress on — and hopefully, one that we will be able to see the end of someday, for both the children and their parents.

To learn more about National Birth Defects Prevention Month, visit this page.