Not all birth defects are preventable. But, with some careful planning before and during pregnancy, you can increase your odds of having a baby who develops typically.
And here's the best part: Taking care of yourself and doing what's best for you is also best for your baby! Here are a few ways to help you have a healthy pregnancy:
1. Get 400 mg of folic acid every day.
Consume 400 milligrams of
folic acid per day, starting at least one month before becoming pregnant and continuing throughout the pregnancy. This helps prevent serious defects in the baby's brain and spine.
Some foods are fortified or enriched with folic acid. But the simplest way to make sure you get enough is to take a vitamin that has folic acid every day. Folic acid is the only form of folate that has been shown to help prevent neural tube defects that can cause anencephaly and
spina bifida. Learn about folic acid
2. See your doctor.
Before you are pregnant, visit your doctor to talk about a treatment plan to keep you and your baby healthy. The doctor can also answer questions about any changes you will need to make if you take medications or have a medical condition.
It is also a good time to find out about recommended
vaccines. Before you get pregnant, you may need to get the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine. It protects your baby from
rubella, an infection that causes serious lifelong birth defects. But the vaccine must be given at least one month or more before you are pregnant.
During pregnancy, stay up to date on all recommended vaccines—including shots to help prevent
respiratory syncytial virus,
whooping cough. Also keep up with routine screenings for
sexually transmitted infections and group B streptococcus.
Learn about congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV), the most common infection that causes birth defects here
3. Aim for a healthy weight.
Underweight, overweight or obesity increases the risk of birth defects and pregnancy complications. Maintain a healthy weight before getting pregnant by adopting a healthy lifestyle with
good nutrition and regular exercise.
4. Avoid harmful substances.
Stay away from
alcohol, tobacco and
drugs. Any amount of these substances can be harmful to your baby at any time during pregnancy.
5. Watch out for toxins at work and at home.
Chemicals at work can come home on hair, skin, clothes and shoes.
Examples of toxins include lead, gasses, solvents, pesticides, asbestos and other substances. Know your risk of
exposure to harmful toxins at your workplace and home.