Not all birth defects can be prevented. But you can increase your chances of having a healthy baby by managing health conditions and by adopting healthy behaviors before and during pregnancy.
Taking care of yourself and doing what's best for you is also best for your baby!
1. Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
Folic acid is important because it can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby's brain and spine (anencephaly and
spina bifida). These birth defects develop very early during pregnancy when the neural tube—which forms the early brain and the spinal cord—does not close properly. You need to start taking folic acid at least one month before becoming pregnant and continue during pregnancy.
In addition to eating foods with natural folate, you can:
Take a vitamin that has folic acid in it every day.
Most vitamins sold in the United States have the recommended amount of folic acid women need each day. Check the label on the bottle to be sure it contains 100% of the daily value (DV) of folic acid, which is 400 mcg.
Eat fortified foods.
You can find folic acid in some breads, breakfast cereals, and corn masa flour.
Be sure to check the nutrient facts label and look for one that has "100%" next to folic acid.
2. Book a visit with your healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medicine.
If you are planning to become pregnant, discuss your current medicines with a healthcare provider, such as your doctor or pharmacist. Creating a treatment plan for your health condition before you are pregnant can help keep you and your developing baby healthy. It's also important to see the doctor regularly throughout pregnancy, so keep all your prenatal care appointments.
3. Become up-to-date with all vaccines, including the flu shot.
Vaccines help protect you and your developing baby against serious diseases. Get a
flu shot and
whooping cough vaccine (also called Tdap) during each pregnancy to help protect yourself and your baby.
4. Before you get pregnant, try to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
A woman who is obese (a
body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher) before pregnancy is at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy. Obesity also increases a pregnant woman's risk of several serious birth defects. Even if a woman is not actively planning a pregnancy, getting healthy can help boost her health and her mood. If a woman is overweight or obese, she should talk with her doctor about ways to reach a healthy weight
before she gets pregnant.
Learn more about healthy weight
5. Boost your health by avoiding harmful substances during pregnancy, such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
Alcohol: Alcohol in a woman's bloodstream passes to the developing baby through the umbilical cord. There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including wine and beer. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and
intellectual disabilities. These disabilities in the child, which occur because the mother drank alcohol during the pregnancy, are known as
fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). The best advice is to stop drinking alcohol when trying to get pregnant.
Tobacco: The dangers of
smoking during pregnancy include preterm birth, certain birth defects (cleft lip or cleft palate), and infant death. Even being around tobacco smoke puts a woman and her pregnancy at risk for problems. Quitting smoking
before getting pregnant is best. For a woman who is already pregnant, quitting as early as possible can still help protect against some health problems for the baby, such as low birth weight. It's never too late to quit smoking.
Marijuana and other drugs: A woman who uses marijuana or other drugs during pregnancy can have a baby who is born preterm, of low birth weight, or has other health problems, such as birth defects. Marijuana is the illicit drug most commonly used during pregnancy. Since we know of no safe level of marijuana use during pregnancy, women who are pregnant, or considering becoming pregnant, should not use marijuana, even in states where marijuana is legal. Women using marijuana for medical reasons should speak with their doctor about an alternative therapy with pregnancy-specific safety data.