By Elizabeth Ankeny, CNP, Family Medicine
Living a healthy lifestyle, at all ages and stages, is important, but did you know a healthy pregnancy often begins well before conception? Whether or not a pregnancy is in your foreseeable future, the below list provides some habits you can adopt now to start a healthy lifestyle:
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs
- Get an annual physical and be up-to-date on immunizations
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat
- Keep hands clean by washing them often with soap and water to prevent infections
- Talk with your doctor or nurse practitioner about any medical problems as well as all medications and herbal products you are using.
- Take a vitamin with 400 mcg folic acid every day
Why take folic acid before conception? Folic acid is a B-vitamin that helps a baby’s brain and spine develop very early in the first month of pregnancy. Many women don’t know they are pregnant during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Taking adequate folic acid before conception can reduce the risk of brain and spine birth defects.
Birth defects range from mild to severe and affect how the body looks, how it works, or both. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, birth defects are common and affect 1 in 33 babies in the United States every year. A family history is not always present, and not all birth defects or health conditions are preventable. The most common birth defects include heart defects, cleft lip and cleft palate, and spina bifida. If you have any questions or concerns about these or other birth defects, please ask your medical provider. If diabetes or other medical condition needs to be better managed; you want to stop drinking, smoking, or taking street drugs; or need help beginning a healthier lifestyle, your medical provider can help you.
Remember, you do have some control in a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby, and it all starts with preconception health.