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National Birth Defects Prevention Month and Folic Acid Awareness Week

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Birth defects affect approximately one in 33 newborns and are a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States (1). Lifetime care for all infants born in a single year with one or more of 17 severe birth defects has been estimated at $6 billion (2).

This year, the focus is on obesity prevention and weight management before, during, and after pregnancy. Maternal obesity has been linked to certain birth defects (e.g., neural tube defects) (3). Health-care professionals should encourage women to reach a healthy weight before pregnancy to reduce their infant's risk for birth defects.

January 5--11 is National Folic Acid Awareness Week. Consuming 400 µg of folic acid daily, before and during early pregnancy, will help reduce a woman's risk for pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect (4). Health-care professionals should encourage women who can become pregnant to consume folic acid daily through a vitamin supplement or enriched foods. Additional information regarding prevention of birth defects is available at


  1. Hoyert DL, Mathews TJ, Menacker F, et al. Annual summary of vital statistics: 2004. Pediatrics 2006;117:168--83.
  2. CDC. Economic costs of birth defects and cerebral palsy---United States, 1992. MMWR 1995;44:694--9.
  3. Rasmussen SA, Chu SY, Kim SY, Schmid CH, Lau J. Maternal obesity and risk of neural tube defects: a metaanalysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2008;198:611--9.
  4. CDC. Recommendations for the use of folic acid to reduce the number of cases of spina bifida and other neural tube defects. MMWR 1992;41(No. RR-14).

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Date last reviewed: 1/7/2009


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