According to the March of Dimes, a key partner of Stony Brook Children’s in protecting the health of mothers and babies in Suffolk County, about 120,000 babies are born in the U.S. each year with a birth defect. While the search to discover the cause of some birth defects continues, researchers already know this: There are things women can do before and during pregnancy to lower their risk. Dr. Dennis Davidson provides answers to questions that can help protect the health of your baby.
What are birth defects?
Birth defects are health conditions present at birth that can change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body, and can result in developmental problems or lifelong health issues. There are thousands of different kinds. The most common are heart defects, cleft lip and cleft palate, Down syndrome and spina bifida.
What causes or increases the risk of birth defects?
Some birth conditions are caused by genetic conditions. Others may be linked to use of alcohol, prescription drugs, street drugs, infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Babies who are born prematurely can face serious health issues, including autism, lung problems, hearing loss, intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy.
How can I help prevent birth defects and premature births?
There is no one way, but improving your general health, receiving ongoing prenatal care and becoming aware of potential complications early can make a difference. Studies show that there are ways to decrease the odds of a premature birth or other complications.
These include: taking prenatal vitamins, receiving appropriate dental care, maintaining a healthy weight and, for those who smoke, quitting as soon as possible. If a mom-to-be knows she is at higher risk for an early delivery or a problem is identified up front, she may want to see a maternal-fetal medicine specialist — a physician who specializes in managing high-risk pregnancies. The Maternal-Fetal Medicine Division at Stony Brook Medicine offers some of the most advanced monitoring technology and state-of-the-art procedures in Suffolk County, including a robotically assisted cerclage to help prevent preterm delivery. And if you have a family history of birth defects, our genetic counselors can assess your risk before pregnancy, guide you through the decision-making process and connect you with the appropriate specialists.
What if my baby is delivered prematurely?
If that happens, rest assured that Stony Brook Children’s is home to a Level III NICU — the most advanced designation — which means it is equipped to care for the smallest and sickest infants. It includes a highly skilled team of inhouse neonatologists, neonatology nurses and nurse practitioners; neonatal surgery capabilities; and advanced monitoring and treatment. Our eight attending neonatologists are fellowship-trained, which means they are experts in caring for these vulnerable babies and are available 24/7 to deliver family-centered care that emphasizes quality and safety.
Our newly expanded NICU is also the first in New York State to provide all private rooms for babies. This allows for enhanced monitoring over each baby’s environment as well as privacy and quiet to encourage family bonding. Our NICU also has one of the only four March of Dimes Family Support specialists in Suffolk County to help families better navigate and understand the NICU experience. Sometimes with high-risk pregnancies where we know that delivery will occur at Stony Brook, parents may be referred to the NICU for a tour and receive consultation from one of the attending neonatalogists. This gives parents an opportunity to ask questions in advance.
What if I don’t deliver at Stony Brook but need advanced services?
Because we are a New York State designated Regional Perinatal Center, we offer maternal transport services to bring mothers in labor to our Hospital, as well as new mothers and babies needing advanced care. We encourage mothers who know they are high risk to deliver here. Our new Labor & Delivery Suite is equipped with three operating rooms and 24/7 access to specialists including anesthesiologists. It can handle any type of obstetric emergency and is located adjacent to the NICU so that newborns in distress can receive immediate and appropriate care.
Visit stonybrookchildrens.org to learn more. To schedule a consultation or make an appointment with a Stony Brook OB/GYN or maternal fetal medicine specialist, call (631) 444-4686. To arrange a tour of Stony Brook’s Labor & Delivery Suite, call (631) 444-4000.
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All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.