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Planning Pregnancy May Cut Birth Defects
Date:4/8/2012

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, April 6 (HealthDay News) -- Women who'd like to become pregnant -- especially those who are taking medications for chronic conditions -- may need to add something to their to-do list: Plan, plan, plan.

That's because some medications are known to cause birth defects. Avoiding all medications during pregnancy is not always possible, however, and sometimes not taking a prescribed medication could be harmful, too.

"The best thing for women to do, all women, is to plan their pregnancy," said Dr. Diane Ashton, deputy medical director for the March of Dimes. "Women should speak with their physician about their plans to become pregnant. If they have a condition that requires medication, that's an ideal time to switch to medications that have less risk, if necessary. And, it gives time for the condition to be stabilized."

About 120,000 babies born each year in the United States -- or about one of every 33 -- are born with a birth defect, something abnormal that occurs in a baby's development, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some are more cosmetic than dangerous, such as an extra toe, but others are serious and include heart defects and spina bifida. Birth defects are the leading cause of death in babies younger than 1 year, according to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.

Most birth defects happen in the early stages of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she's pregnant, according to the CDC.

That's why it's important for women who are using potentially dangerous medications -- such as retinoic acid treatments for acne -- to plan a pregnancy and, Ashton said, to use contraception while they're on those drugs.

Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of neonatology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, concurred.

"The most dangerous time is the first trimester, especially between weeks three an
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