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Prepare for healthy pregnancy

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5 behaviors to help reduce the risk of birth defects

(Family Features) If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, now is a perfect time to make a plan. There are steps you can take to increase your chances of having a healthy, full-term pregnancy and baby – and part of that includes learning about birth defects. Understanding birth defects across the lifespan can help those affected have the information they need to seek proper care.

Each year, birth defects affect about 1 in 33 babies born in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Mainly developing in the first three months of pregnancy as a baby’s organs form, birth defects present as structural changes and can affect one or more parts of the body (heart, brain, foot, etc.). They can cause problems for a baby’s overall health, how the body develops and functions, and are a leading cause of infant death.

Common birth defects include congenital heart defects, cleft lip, cleft palate and spina bifida. An individual’s genetics, behaviors and social and environmental factors can impact one’s risk for birth defects. Even though all birth defects cannot be prevented, there are things you can do before and during pregnancy to increase your chance of having a healthy baby.

“It’s critical that women who are planning to conceive or are pregnant adopt healthy behaviors to reduce the chances of having a baby with birth defects, which are a leading cause of infant death,” said Dr. Zsakeba Henderson, March of Dimes senior vice president and interim chief medical and health officer. “We also encourage these women to get the COVID-19 vaccine since high fevers caused by an infection during the first trimester can increase the risk of birth defects.”

To help prepare for a healthy pregnancy and baby, consider these tips from the experts at March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit fighting for the health of all moms and babies, and the CDC:

1. Have a pre-pregnancy checkup. Before you become pregnant, visit your health care provider to talk about managing your health conditions and creating a treatment plan. Talk about all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements you’re currently taking. You should see your provider before each pregnancy.

2. Get vaccinated. Speak with your health care provider about any vaccinations you may need before each pregnancy, including the COVID-19 vaccine and booster, and flu shot. Make sure your family members are also up to date on their vaccinations to help prevent the spread of diseases.

Pregnant women are at a higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 compared to those who have not been impacted by the infectious disease. Research shows babies of pregnant people with COVID-19 may be at an increased risk of preterm birth and other complications. High fevers caused by any infection during the first trimester of pregnancy can also increase the risk of certain birth defects. The COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people ages 5 and older, including those who are pregnant, lactating, trying to become pregnant or might get pregnant.

3. Take folic acid. Folic acid is a B vitamin that prevents serious birth defects of the brain and spine. Before becoming pregnant, take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day to help ensure your baby’s proper development and growth. While pregnant, increase to 600 micrograms daily.

Add to your diet foods containing folate, the natural form of folic acid, such as lentils, green leafy vegetables, black beans and orange juice. In addition, you can consume foods made from fortified grain products, which have folic acid added, such as bread, pasta and cereal, and foods made from fortified corn masa flour, such as cornbread, corn tortillas, tacos and tamales.

4. Try to reach a healthy weight. Talk to your health care provider about how to reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant, as excess weight can affect your fertility and increase the risk of birth defects and other complications. Maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes eating healthy foods and regular physical activity.

5. Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful substances. Cigarettes and e-cigarettes contain harmful substances that can damage the placenta or reach the baby’s bloodstream. Smoking cigarettes can cause certain birth defects, like cleft lip and palate.

It is also not safe to drink alcohol at any time during pregnancy. This includes the first few weeks of pregnancy when you might not even know you are pregnant. Drinking alcohol can cause serious health problems for your baby, including birth defects. Additionally, do not take opioids, which are drugs that are often used to treat pain. Opioid use during pregnancy can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome, preterm birth and may cause birth defects. Consult your physician before stopping or changing any prescribed medications.

Find more resources to support your family across the lifespan at marchofdimes.org/birthdefects and cdc.gov/birthdefects.

Understanding Common Birth Defects

Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects in a baby’s lip and mouth that can be repaired by surgery. Additional surgery, special dental care and speech therapy may be needed as the child gets older.

Clubfoot is a birth defect of the foot where a baby’s foot turns inward, so the bottom of the foot faces sideways or up. Clubfoot doesn’t improve without treatment, such as pointing, stretching, casting the foot or using braces. With early treatment, most children with clubfoot can walk, run and play without pain.

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are heart conditions babies are born with. They can affect how the heart looks, how it works or both. CHDs are the most common types of birth defects. Babies with critical CHDs, which can cause serious health problems or death, need surgery or other treatment within the first year of life.

Hearing loss is a common birth defect that can happen when any part of the ear isn’t working in the usual way and may affect a baby’s ability to develop speech, language and social skills. Some babies with hearing loss may need hearing aids, medicine, surgery or speech therapy.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images


SOURCE:
March of Dimes

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Tips to maintain your skin’s health

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(Family Features) Your skin is your first line of defense against the outer world. As the body’s largest organ, it protects you from bacteria, viruses and other environmental hazards, including pollution, ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and more. It also helps regulate body temperature, recognizes pain sensations and alerts you to potential health problems, making it one of the body’s ultimate multitaskers.

While some factors that impact your skin – like genetics, aging, hormones and certain health conditions – are out of your control, there are steps you can take to support and maintain your skin’s health.

Protect Yourself from the Sun
No matter the season, exposure to UV rays from the sun can cause wrinkles, age spots and other types of damage, which could lead to skin cancer. To protect your skin from these harmful rays, use topical sunscreen daily with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 – even when it’s overcast – and reapply regularly.

Boost Your Diet with Antioxidants
A well-balanced diet consisting of plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains is an important part of maintaining healthy skin. However, diet alone isn’t always enough.

Many dermatologists recommend Heliocare Daily Use Antioxidant Formula as an oral dietary supplement. It contains Fernblock PLE technology, an exclusive plant extract rich in antioxidant properties that works to counteract the negative effects of free radicals, which are unstable atoms generated through everyday life that can damage skin cells. Free radical damage can cause wrinkles, discoloration and other signs of environmental aging. Taking a supplement daily, like Heliocare, can enhance antioxidant intake to help maintain skin health. Plus, it serves as a companion to topical SPF.

Keep Skin Moisturized
Daily use of a face and body moisturizer can help maintain a healthier skin barrier. This helps draw moisture to your skin from the air and lock it in. For best results and optimal hydration, moisturize within minutes of drying off after bathing to trap in moisture. Also remember to drink plenty of water, which can help keep skin hydrated, too.

Reduce Stress
Uncontrolled stress can trigger the release of hormones that dull skin and cause it to produce more oil, which can result in breakouts and other skin problems. To encourage clearer, healthier skin, take steps to reduce stress such as scaling back your to-do list, setting reasonable limits, making time for things you enjoy or trying a stress-reduction technique like yoga, meditation or tai chi.

Wear Protective Clothing
In addition to topical SPF, covering skin as opposed to leaving it exposed to the elements can protect from sun damage. When UV rays are at their peak, typically in the middle of the day, consider wearing long sleeves, pants and a large-brimmed hat.

Get a Good Night’s Rest
During sleep, your body repairs itself and regenerates skin cells. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, during which time the body produces higher levels of collagen, a protein that supports healthier looking (and functioning) skin. Lack of sleep and collagen loss go hand in hand.

Learn more about skin, antioxidants and free radical damage at heliocare.com.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock


SOURCE:
Heliocare

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HEALTHY LIVING

Spilling the secrets to early literacy

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(Family Features) For young children, learning to read is a critical step in their educational journeys, as literacy helps build cognitive abilities and language proficiency and has a direct impact on later academic achievement.

While there are no shortcuts to early literacy, there are steps parents can take to promote the development of children’s reading abilities. Dr. Lauren Loquasto, senior vice president and chief academic officer at The Goddard School, and Steve Metzger, award-winning author of more than 70 children’s books, share this guidance for parents.

Get Started Early
It’s never too early to start reading with children. In fact, they respond to being read to prenatally. One of the best ways to encourage early literacy is modeling the act of reading. Young children love to imitate, and if they see their parents reading, they are more likely to want to read themselves. Instead of scrolling on your phone or watching television while your children play, pick up a book or magazine.

Use Conversation to Build Literacy
To help build their vocabularies, consistently engage children in conversation. Literacy is more than reading and writing; it’s also listening and speaking. Children understand words before they can articulate them, so don’t be discouraged if it feels like a one-way conversation.

Expose Children to More Than Books
Make your home environment print-rich, as the more exposure children have to letters and words, the better. For example, keep magnetic letters and words on the fridge, put labels on your toy containers and position books and magazines in different rooms. Also remember reading isn’t limited to books. Words are everywhere, from street signs to restaurant menus. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect with your children through words throughout your day.

Let Them Take the Lead
Children engage with books in different, developmentally appropriate ways. Some children quickly flip through pages or only look at pictures while others might make up stories or their own words or songs. Some only want to read the same book over and over and some want to read a new book every time. Embrace and encourage their interest in books, no matter how they choose to use them.

Establish a Routine
Parents of young children often have busy and hectic lives, so it isn’t always easy to find time to read. Consistency is key, so be intentional about setting aside time for reading every day – perhaps it’s after dinner or before bedtime – and stick to it.

Select the Right Books
Helping young children choose books is an important part of their learning-to-read process. Developmental appropriateness is critical. For infants and toddlers, start with nursery rhymes, which are mini-stories that grasp children’s attention through repetition, rhythm and rhyming. Visuals are also important because they aren’t yet pulling words off the page. For emerging readers, choose books that align with their interests. Focus on books that are printed with text that goes from left to right and top to bottom.

Expose children to both fiction and non-fiction books. Non-fiction provides real-world knowledge children crave and helps them make sense of what they read in fictional stories. For example, the learnings about the life cycle of a bat they read in “Bat Loves the Night,” a non-fiction book, can help them better understand what’s happening in “Stellaluna,” a fiction book about a young bat.

If you’re in doubt about book choices, consult with a teacher or librarian, who can make recommendations based on your children’s interests and reading levels.

Foster a Love of Reading
Children’s early exposure to books can set the stage for a lifetime of reading. Make reading a time for discovery. Take children to a library or bookstore and encourage them to explore and find books on their own. Display genuine interest in their selections and use books as a tool for engaging and connecting with them. Don’t pressure children to learn how to read. Accept, validate and encourage them as they progress on their unique literacy journeys.

To watch a webinar recording featuring Loquasto and Metzger providing additional literacy guidance and recommendations, and access a wealth of actionable parenting insights and resources, visit the Parent Resource Center at GoddardSchool.com.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock


SOURCE:
The Goddard School

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Breathe better with asthma, wherever you are

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(Family Features) If you have asthma, you know that symptoms can come on quickly, then worsen.

The things that make them do that are called triggers. An important part of managing asthma is knowing your triggers at home, work, school or while you’re outdoors.

A health care provider can help you figure that out, then you can take steps to avoid those triggers and breathe easier.

At Home
Because asthma is usually due to allergies, triggers are often allergens, or things that cause allergic reactions. Allergens such as pet dander, dust mites, pests and smoke can make asthma symptoms worse in some people, and for others, even trigger an asthma attack.  

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) suggests that it may be helpful to combine a few different strategies to help reduce exposure to triggers.

People sensitive to dust can clean with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration vacuum and use mattress and pillow covers that prevent exposure to dust mites. If you’re sensitive to pests like cockroaches and rodents, consider integrated pest management, which involves removing and controlling pests through methods such as traps or poison. Avoiding tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke, can be especially helpful for some people with asthma.

At School
Asthma is one of the leading reasons children miss school. At school, kids may be exposed to dust mites, pests and mold, which may be asthma triggers for some children.

Because children spend lots of time at school, it can be helpful for teachers, school nurses or coaches to know what to do if your child’s symptoms flare up. Team up with a health care provider to develop an asthma action plan and share it with trusted adults at your child’s school.

At Work
The workplace can have hundreds of potential triggers, like chlorine-based cleaning products, bleaches, hair dyes and metal dust. Repeated exposures in the workplace can also lead to new triggers. Report new or worsening symptoms that occur at work to your health care provider and your workplace supervisor.

Outdoors
Everyday weather like cold, dry air can set off breathing problems. Air pollution can affect asthma, too.

It may be helpful to avoid some of the worst pollution by adjusting when and where you exercise. Try to avoid exercising near busy roads or industrial areas. Visit airnow.gov to check your local air quality so you can plan to avoid outdoor activities when pollution is highest.

Managing your triggers is just one part of keeping your asthma under control. Work with a health care provider to develop an asthma treatment plan that includes taking medicines as prescribed and keeping track of your symptoms and where you are when they occur. That way, you can know what’s making your asthma worse or better.

To learn more about asthma, visit NHLBI’s Learn More Breathe Better® program at nhlbi.nih.gov/BreatheBetter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock


SOURCE:
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

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