Some of the most important things you can do to help protect the health of your future baby should happen before you get pregnant. Women who take steps to get healthy before pregnancy are less likely to have babies that are born premature or have low birthweight. They are also less likely to have birth defects or other disabling conditions.

During a free health lecture, BCH nurse-midwife Diane Utz, CNM, described a number of important steps you can take to boost your preconception health and give your baby the best gift of all — the best chance for a healthy start in life.

1. Start taking folate.

Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin (B9) that occurs naturally in foods, and folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Periconceptional folate — folate ingested during the period before and immediately after the time of conception — can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.

“Women need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate every day,” said Utz. She explained that you can get folic acid by:

  • Taking vitamins that have folate. Prenatal vitamins sold at most local pharmacies and grocery stores have 100 percent of the daily value of folate or folic acid (400 mcg).
  • Through the foods you eat. You can find folate in some breads, pastas and cereals. Also, folate is found naturally in foods such as leafy green vegetables, avocados, eggs, peas and beans.
  • Getting a combination of the two. Take a vitamin that has folate in it, and eat folate-rich foods.

2. Avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

Utz stated, “Smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol or using street drugs can cause many problems, including pregnancy loss, premature birth, birth defects and infant death.”

If you’re trying to get pregnant and cannot stop smoking tobacco, drinking or using drugs, get help! Contact your health care provider or a local treatment center.

3. Keep medical conditions under control.

Medical conditions that can affect pregnancy include:

  • Asthma
  • Cardiac issues (e.g., hypertension)
  • Diabetes
  • Oral health conditions
  • Obesity
  • Seizure disorders
  • Mental health disorders

If you currently have any of the above medical conditions, make sure they are under control and being treated.

4. Avoid toxic substances or environmental contaminants.

Avoid toxic substances or environmental contaminants such as household cleaners, pesticides, cat feces and radiation exposure.

“These toxins can have an impact on the reproductive systems of both men and women, and can make it more difficult to get pregnant. Also, exposure to even small amounts of toxic materials during pregnancy can pose risks to a baby,” said Utz.

5. Review your medical history with your provider.

Before getting pregnant, talk to your provider about preconception health. Your provider will want to discuss:

  • Medications you’re currently taking.
  • Vaccinations you might need.
  • Medical conditions you currently have that could affect a pregnancy.
  • Health conditions that run in your family or your partner's family.

Based on your family or partner’s history, your provider might refer you for genetic counseling to learn about the chance your baby will have a genetic condition.

6. Reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Utz said, “Women who are overweight or obese before becoming pregnant have a higher risk for complications during pregnancy, including preeclampsia, stillbirth and cesarean delivery.”

If you are overweight or obese, talk with your provider about ways to lose weight before pregnancy.

To make an appointment with BCH nurse midwife Diane Utz, call (303) 415-4045.

View PowerPoint slides from the lecture on “Getting Ready for a Safe Pregnancy.”

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