Preparing Your Body

Whether it's your first pregnancy or you have had a child before, there are some smart ways to prepare yourself to give your baby a healthy start. Here are two answers to common questions about preconception health.

woman in field

Before you conceive

Your question

"I'm thinking about getting pregnant sometime in the near future. What should I do to prepare?"

The answer

That's smart — what you do before you are pregnant can affect your pregnancy. In addition to eating right, exercising and getting plenty of rest, there are five things you can do before getting pregnant to have a healthy pregnancy and to reduce your risk of having a baby with a birth defect.

  1. Start taking 0.4-mg (400 mcg) of folic acid every day now, because it takes some time for your body to build up proper stores of this important B vitamin. It is important to take it before conception and early in pregnancy, because these defects occur in the first month of pregnancy before most women realize they're pregnant.
  2. See your health care provider for a checkup. Make sure you've had all your immunizations, especially for rubella (German measles). If you're taking a prescribed medication, be sure your health care provider and pharmacist know that you're planning to become pregnant.
  3. If you smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, stop! These substances can threaten the health of your baby, and your own health, too.
  4. Stay away from toxic chemicals at home and at work, including insecticides, solvents (like some cleaners or paint thinners), lead and mercury. Read the labels before using chemicals, and don't be afraid to ask your health care provider if you have questions.
  5. If you have a cat, don't handle the cat litter. It can carry toxoplasmosis, which can cause birth defects. If possible, take a break from this chore while you're pregnant. Also, wear gloves while gardening in areas cats may visit and while handling uncooked meats.

Pregnancies differ

Your question

"I didn't do those things before, and my other children are just fine. Why should I worry now?"

The answer

Each pregnancy is a unique experience. While women who have already had children with birth defects may be at higher risk than others, most birth defects occur in pregnancies of women who haven't had an affected pregnancy before. Three to four percent of all babies are born with a major birth defect... and we have no way of knowing in advance which women these will be [born to]. That's why it's so important that all women stay as healthy as possible, even if they haven't had any problems before. If you have already had a baby with a birth defect, consult your doctor before trying to become pregnant again.

Tags: new parenthood

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