The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

February 1, 2013

Doctor examines ways to lessen chance of birth defects

By Justin Jones, Staff Writer

Friday, February 1, 2013 — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about three percent of babies are born with a birth defect.

January has been recognized by the National Birth Defects Prevention Network as the month for targeting birth defects and the prevention of those defects.

While preventing all birth defects may never be attainable, one doctor at Stanly Regional Medical Center talked about the ways they can lower that percentage.

“I think the most important thing that we try to do is identify those as early as possible. The first (goal) is preventing if you can. The sooner you can screen, the better off they are,” said Edward Williams, a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist.

Williams said for doctors within Stanly Medical Services, the first step they try to take with families that are trying to become pregnant is to look at their genetics, environmental and health factors and statistics.

For that reason, they encourage preconceptual counseling, so the family can discuss their health and family history with a doctor before becoming pregnant. Those meetings can be helpful to target the issues that may pose a risk to a newborn.

“That allows us to do that initial risk assessment and get the patient to stop smoking or get their diabetes under control or have them lose weight,” he said.

Even examining those determining factors and finding a lack of threats can not guarantee a healthy baby.

“More than 60 percent of the causes are really unknown,” Williams said.

Within Stanly County, he said that they specifically target certain issues that are prevalent in the county.

“One of the most significant and most problematic areas that is especially countywide is a significant number of parents with obesity and diabetes,” he said.

“Those may all be interlinked, so we try to focus on those issues that are population specific and look at those like obesity and address that.”

In some cases, age can also be a factor, as it has been specifically linked to cases of Down’s syndrome.

“Age is significantly linked to have more genetic issues such as Down’s,” Williams said.

The actual age is not necessarily the issue, Williams said, but a common factor because older parents trying to have a child are typically more susceptible to issues such as cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure because they are older.

For any age group, he recommends the preconceptual counseling to discuss any health issues that can be treated or minimized for the health of a baby. Another aid is exploring nutritional help.

“A nutritional consult can focus their diet on where they may be deficient on those supplements or food groups that can help them. Food such as green vegetables and fruits have natural folate in them,” he said.

“We try to do some nutritional counseling to target those food groups that will help them.”

Those steps and a visit to a certified OB/GYN may not be able to eliminate all risks, but may help to reduce them.

“We’ve come a long way in detecting and having pretty sensitive testing. The triple screening we use in the first trimester is a very sensitive ultrasound that we can do to target some of those defects,” he said.

“Our focus is on controlling issues before we get to that stage.”

Visit for more information on the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.