Thinking about pregnancy?
These steps can help improve your baby's health. Not all birth conditions can be prevented. But a woman can increase her chances of having a healthy baby by managing health conditions and adopting healthy behaviors before becoming pregnant. This is important because many birth defects happen very early during pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
Click here for detailed information about New Hampshire women's preconception health.
See your health care provider BEFORE you get pregnant.
This is called preconception care. Many birth defects occur in the very early weeks of pregnancy before a woman has missed her first menstrual period, so it is important that she see her doctor to discuss medical and family history before she conceives. This is especially important for women who have had a previous child with birth defects. Interconception care provides a unique opportunity to address specific risk factors that may have contributed to previous poor pregnancy outcomes.
Get a balanced diet plus 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of her baby's brain and spine. These birth defects are called neural tube defects or NTDs. Research shows that if all women of child bearing age consumed the recommended amount of folic acid, 70% of NTDs could be prevented.
Control chronic health conditions.
Women who have conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, or obesity should talk to their health care provider about measures to take if they are considering pregnancy, or if they discover that they are pregnant. Sometimes better medication or a different dosage is recommended for treating the condition in pregnancy.
Stop drinking and smoking.
These substances can cause birth defects. Ideally, a woman should stop using these substances before she becomes pregnant, but it is never too late to quit.
No amount of alcohol is known to be safe for the developing fetus. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the leading known preventable cause of mental retardation in the United States. Children with FAS may have permanent mental and behavioral problems. They often have distinctly malformed facial features.
Cigarette smoke may lower the oxygen available to the baby, which can cause the baby to grow more slowly and gain less weight in the womb, and is linked to a higher risk for cleft lip and palate.
Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
A woman who is obese (a body mass index of 30 or higher) before pregnancy is at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy. Obesity in the woman also increases the risk of several serious birth defects for the baby. If you are overweight or obese, talk with your doctor about ways to reach a healthy weight before you get pregnant.
Prevent infections and food-borne illness:
Germs that cause only mild or no symptoms at all in adults can be deadly to the unborn fetus. Women of childbearing age can avoid some of these by making sure that all of their immunizations are up-to-date before becoming pregnant. Other harmful germs and parasites can be avoided by using good hygiene.
Talk to your doctor or nurse about vaccinations (shots).
Many vaccinations are safe and recommended during pregnancy, but some are not. Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep a woman and her baby healthy.
Understand the medications you take.
Some medications are shown to be harmful to the unborn fetus. Others are necessary for a mother to remain healthy. In order to find out what medications you should and should not be taking, talk to your physician. Do not start or stop taking new medications (including over the counter and herbal remedies) without first talking with your physician.
Learn about genetics.
Genetic counseling may be appropriate if you have a family history of birth defects, a previous pregnancy that resulted in a birth defects, or you are 35 years of age or older. Individuals should consult their physician and when appropriate, seek genetic counseling.
Find out about other precautions.
Because most substances can pass through the placenta into the fetus' blood supply, mothers-to-be should avoid exposure to anything toxic. This includes fumes from strong household chemicals such as gasoline, paints, paint thinner, and pesticides; lead in some paints; and water from contaminated sources.