Prevent Birth Defects Naturally

“The only way to win is not to play.

(quoting the fictional U. S. Department of Defense computer in the movie Wargames)

The only sensible approach to nuclear war is to never have one. The only sensible approach to birth defects is to prevent them.

Some grim statistics relevant to birth defects in general: 

Fully 11% of all babies born in the US are born to drug-abusing mothers. (National Institute for Drug Abuse, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1992)

Mothers who smoke tobacco are hurting their unborn child. The carcinogens and other harmful chemicals in that a pregnant woman takes in when she smokes cigarettes are transmitted to the unborn baby. Many chemicals in tobacco products, such as benzene and formaldehyde, are known teratogens (birth-defect causing). Around 20% of all pregnant women smoke. This does not even count second-hand smoke.

Maternal alcohol use hurts the developing child. Two out of three adults use alcohol, and one in ten adults is a heavy drinker at the level often termed “alcoholic.” I am not persuaded that all pregnant women abstain from alcohol, even though the Surgeon General has stated that there is NO safe minimum level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most severe expression of what alcohol can do to a baby.  The must be millions of infants with less obvious but still handicapping alcohol-related congenital damage.

The crudest form of arithmetic shows eleven percent plus twenty percent plus sixty-six percent equals 97 percent. 97 percent! This means that genetic factors are not even necessary to explain a whole lot of congenital diseases and malformations. And we have not even considered environmental pollutants or on-the-job exposure to chemicals as causes. We have not even considered pharmaceutical side effects (remember thalidimide?) These figures also fail to consider malnutrition, or undernutrition, which may be the greatest factor of all.

Obviously, there must therefore be a lot of overlap in the above numbers. After all, you and I are well aware that many people, especially many pregnant people, do not smoke, drink, or use drugs. I would be willing to say that the majority of pregnant women strictly avoid those harmful behaviors. But there are many other women who are doing two, or all three, of these dangerous behaviors well into, or throughout, pregnancy. This constitutes child abuse, and it must stop.


Hillemann, H. H. "Maternal Malnutrition and Fetal Prenatal Development Malformation" (Address at Oregon State College, November 9, 1956)

Hillemann, H. H. "Maternal Malnutrition and Congenital Deformity" (Grants Pass Oregon Address, March 17, 1958)

Hillemann. H.H.  "Developmental Malformation in Man and Other Animals" (A Bibliography) Lee Foundation, Milwaukee, WI. Undated, circa 1970.

Hillemann, H. H. "The Spectrum of Congenital Defect, Experimental and Clinical" JOURNAL OF APPLIED NUTRITION 14:1,2  1961

Klein, Dianne (1991) A coroner’s-eye view of drug babies. Los Angeles Times, March 3. Cited in Farrell, Warren (1993) The Myth of Male Power. NY: Simon and Schuster, p 413.