March of Dimes National Birth Defects Awareness Month is observed every year in January. Birth defects are structural changes that usually occur during the first three months of pregnancy and affect one or more body parts. Annually, in the U.S. alone, approximately one in 33 babies is born with a birth defect. These defects include congenital heart defects, cleft lip, cleft palate, and spina bifida. March of Dimes National Birth Defects Awareness Month provides tips and information that women can use for a healthy pregnancy and better baby care.
History of March of Dimes Birth Defects Prevention Month
The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization that has been assisting pregnant women for over eight decades. It supports the health of all mothers and babies, aids research, leads programs, and educates young families on these matters. It is a collaborative effort between the March of Dimes and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (C.D.C.).
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who contracted polio in 1921, initially founded the March of Dimes to combat polio. At first, the foundation’s focus was to fund a polio vaccine, and once this was successful, the focus shifted to the prevention of birth defects and infant mortality. Almost 3,100 local chapters that raise funds and deliver aid were subsequently set up. In 1958, the focus shifted again when the organization ventured into funding genetics research and establishing birth defect treatment centers in hospitals across the country. Dr. Virginia Apgar, an obstetrical anesthesiologist, also known for the famous Apgar Score, joined the March of the Dimes as Vice President for Medical Affairs during this period. The Apgar Score is a method of ascertaining the physical condition of newborns right at birth. Dr. Apgar also took a keen interest in premature births and brought attention to them as early as 1960.
Another significant change in goals arrived when the organization introduced its walk-a-thon fundraising events. These walking events became popular, and WalkAmerica turned into a successful fundraising event. The first walk-a-thon was held in the U.S. in February 1969, in York. The March of Dimes organization has a long and interesting history. Initially known as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis until the early 2000s, the organization’s formal name today is the March of Dimes Foundation.
March of Dimes Birth Defects Prevention Month timeline
President Roosevelt establishes the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
To empower women as primary caregivers, Elaine Whitelaw, the vice president of March of Dimes, creates the women's division.
The organization is renamed the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.
The March of Dimes extends its mission globally through the formation of a Global Programs Department.
Pre-term birth is the leading cause of death for children the world over, therefore, research and prevention of premature birth is the primary focus of the organization.
March of Dimes Foundation becomes the formal name of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
March of Dimes Birth Defects Prevention Month FAQs
When do most birth defects occur?
Around three to 12 fetal weeks is the point when major defects of the body and internal organs occur.
How can I protect my baby from birth defects?
Commit to healthy choices such as consuming 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, avoiding harmful substances, living a healthy lifestyle, and talking to your health provider.
Which is the most preventable cause of birth defects?
The leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disorders in the U.S. is prenatal exposure to alcohol.
How to Observe March of Dimes Birth Defects Prevention Month
Spread the word
Help generate engagement and awareness. A good way to do so is by posting on social media.
Watch videos or listen to podcasts that cover a wide range of topics. These could include the maternal risk factors of having a baby with a heart defect, tips for preventing infections during pregnancy, and more.
The C.D.C. and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network have free promotional materials and other resources that are available online. Why not print and distribute them?
5 Facts About Birth Defects
Birth defects are common
Every year, one in 33 newborns is diagnosed with a birth defect.
Many birth defects are not discovered right at birth.
There are tests, like ultrasounds and amniocentesis, that detect birth defects such as spina bifida, heart defects, or Down Syndrome before birth.
Other causes of birth defects
Some major causes of birth defects include genetic issues, chromosomal problems, exposure to harmful radiation and chemicals, infections during pregnancy, and low-quality food.
The mother can take some important steps before and during pregnancy that can help prevent birth defects.
Why March of Dimes Birth Defects Prevention Month is Important
Children are future
This observance and the support this month provides are crucial. They are essential for encouraging parents to choose the best for their babies.
Easily accessible information
Information is key! There are many readily available resources and toolkits that make it easy to share information.
Learn more about birth defects and their causes and symptoms. By doing so, you can offer more support to parents whose babies are affected.
March of Dimes Birth Defects Prevention Month dates