Cleft awareness and the importance of folic acid

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We are living in a time of drastic environmental changes, genetically modified foods and unhealthy lifestyle. The effect of this is witnessed in our everyday life in forms of various ailments. We need to incorporate the right changes and to live by the principle of ‘prevention is better than cure’.

Extra care or I would rather say, extra cautiousness is required if a family has a history of genetic diseases. Heart condition, diabetes, cancer etc stay in a family and are passed on to future generations. Now, these deadly diseases may not be preventable in nature. But, there are certain conditions that can be prevented well before a child was born.

Cleft lip is one such condition which can easily affect a child yet can be prevented if necessary precautions are taken. Cleft lip is a split on the upper lip and it develops during the early stage of pregnancy. Though the reason for cleft lip is unknown, many scientists believe that it could be genetic, exposure to certain environmental factors or due to certain medications taken by the mother. A baby conceived through a consanguineous relationship can also have a cleft lip.

As it is a physical defect, a cleft lip can be diagnosed by ultrasound. This condition can be corrected as early as the baby turns 3 months old. However, there can be difficulty in feeding, ear infection, speech troubles and certain dental problems because of cleft lip.

If a family has a history of a cleft lip, it is better to take right advice and counselling from the experts to be prepared for the treatment. Also, there are certain preventive measures that can be followed by the mother. The measures are as follows,

  • Maintaining the right body weight is important during pregnancy. Increase in body weight can cause various side effects including diabetes which can cause cleft lip in the baby.
  • Avoid smoking, drinking and exposure to harmful environmental conditions.
  • Be cautious about the medicines intake. Don’t take any medication without consulting the doctor. Inform the doctor about all your prescribed medications.
  • Last but the most important thing is, leading a healthy lifestyle with proper diet.

Folic Acid is an important vitamin that is incorporated in prenatal care by many doctors. Folic acid plays an important role in fetus development during the first trimester.

A study based out of Ireland states that of 11,000 babies born, mothers who did not take folic acid in the first three months of pregnancy were four times more at risk of giving birth to babies with cleft lip and palates compared to mothers who did take the supplements.

Our Department of Health recommends all pregnant women to take a daily supplement of at least 0.4mg of folic acid for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In a country like India, even basic necessities like healthy food are not accessible for many pregnant women let alone prenatal vitamin. Consanguineous marriages are also very common here and there is no awareness about the complications of a baby conceived through such relationships.

There are a few trusts and organizations working towards creating awareness and prevention of cleft lip. Anamaya Indo Pacific is one such trust working towards cleft free India.

The concept of Anamaya was conceived by Dr.Shreekala, a dentist by profession, committed to the cause of prevention of birth defects in the country since 2010. Anamaya refers to the multicenter cleft prevention program in India in association with the International Cleft Prevention Foundation.

The project ANAMAYA constitutes a team of dedicated professionals – Maxillofacial Surgeons, Plastic Surgeons, Pediatricians, Orthodontists, Gynecologists, Geneticists, Oral Pathologists, Epidemiologists and Speech Therapist.

Thank you for reading this post on cleft awareness. It is time to create more awareness. Share this article and let people who are in need know about Anamaya.

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