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Release: Jan. 21, 2000

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- January has been designated as Birth Defects Prevention Month to highlight the public health importance of birth defects.

The Iowa Birth Defects Registry, located in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, and the Iowa Department of Public Health want to ensure that women know what they can do to increase their chances of having a healthy baby.

Annually, 1,600 babies are born in Iowa, and 150,000 nationwide, with birth defects. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality.

"It is important that we increase our understanding of the causes of birth defects and what we can do to prevent birth defects," said Paul Romitti, Ph.D., director of the Iowa Birth Defects Registry.

The registry is a statewide reporting system that works with all Iowa hospitals and specialty clinics to collect information about birth defects diagnosed among state residents. This information is used to assess trends in their occurrence and mortality within the state and to study potential causes of birth defects.

Some birth defects are preventable. Prenatal health promotion and health care can help. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age (15 to 44 years old) consume 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. Folic acid, a B-vitamin, taken before pregnancy and in the early weeks of pregnancy, can reduce a woman's risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect. In the United States, neural tube defects affect an estimated 4,000 pregnancies each year. The most common of these defects is spina bifida, the leading cause of childhood paralysis.

Later this month, Gov. Tom Vilsack will sign a proclamation naming January as Birth Defects Prevention Month in Iowa.

"We are pleased that Iowa is recognizing January as Birth Defects Prevention Month. However, we need to educate women of childbearing age about ways to prevent birth defects every month," said Steve Gleason, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.