Whether you are already pregnant or are just starting to plan for a pregnancy, there are many things you can do to give your baby a healthy start in life. Follow these suggestions from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
Get Started Early
If you're thinking about becoming pregnant, you should see your health care provider to make sure you are in good "preconception" health. Before actually getting pregnant, there are steps you can take to have a healthy pregnancy down the road, notes Catherine Spong, M.D., chief of the Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch at NICHD. Improving your health even before conception means that you don't have to get started when you're already pregnant.
"Eat right, get on an exercise regimen, and get to a healthy weight," she says. "This takes you into pregnancy with the ideal situation." (You will find more than two dozen tips on healthy pregnancy habits in HealthLines on pages 25-27.)
Another way to create the best possible outcome is to practice what Dr. Spong, a mother of three, calls good "dating." She advises getting an ultrasound as soon as possible, preferably during the first three months of your pregnancy. "This allows you to know when you will deliver, but also lets you identify growth complications," she adds. First trimester babies are all about the same size. That first trimester ultrasound helps identify any growth problems that may occur later.
Dr. Spong also recommends taking vitamins and folic acid before you start to try to conceive. "It is something everyone can do," she explains. "And there is no harm in getting as healthy as you can."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of childbearing age—and especially those who are planning a pregnancy—consume about 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid every day. Adequate folic acid intake is very important one month before conception and at least three months afterward to help reduce the risk of having a fetus with a neural tube defect.
Prenatal Care Is Important
Getting early and regular prenatal care is important for both you and the developing baby. Your health care professional may discuss many issues, such as nutrition and physical activity, what to expect during the birth process, and basic skills for caring for your newborn.
You will be given a schedule for your prenatal visits. You can expect to see your health care provider more often as your due date gets closer. A typical schedule includes visiting your provider:
- about once each month during your first six months of pregnancy
- every two weeks during the seventh and eighth month of pregnancy
- weekly in the ninth month of pregnancy
- if you are over 35 years old or your pregnancy is high risk because you have certain health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure, your doctor will probably want to see you more often. Your health care professional may also suggest prenatal testing.
Prenatal testing provides information about your baby's health before he or she is born. Testing is available to pregnant women …
- who are aged 35 or older, because they are at higher risk for having a child with abnormal chromosomes;
- who have a family history of an inherited condition, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy;
- when their ancestry or ethnic background means that they might have a higher chance of an inherited disorder, such as sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, or Tay-Sachs disease;
- to screen for common genetic disorders, such as spina bifida and Down syndrome.