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A Healthy Beginning for Pregnancy

Why managing your health, your weight, and your habits is so important before conception.

A Healthy Pregnancy: The Right Steps continued...

To get help, talk to your friends, your partner, your family -- and if that isn't enough, consider therapy and possibly antidepressants. While recent research shows antidepressants may pose small risks to the fetus, many doctors believe a depressed mother isn't healthy for a fetus or a baby -- and encourage women to take antidepressants during pregnancy if they need them. Your doctor can help you decide what's best for you.

It's also important to share with your doctor your family history, including incidence of twins, mental retardation, blindness, deafness, cystic fibrosis, congenital birth defects, Tay-Sachs disease, sickle trait/sickle cell, and thalassemia.

Prenatal vitamins: Take a daily multivitamin that contains 400 milligrams of folic acid; you can buy these over the counter. Eat breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid -- as well as green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, and citrus fruits, which naturally contain folic acid.

Diet: If fast food, sodas, and sweets are your mainstays, change your ways, Graves advises. Eating a healthier, well-balanced diet will boost your overall health and -- once you conceive -- provide your baby with the vitamins and minerals necessary for development.

Get at least four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods daily; get at least one serving of foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and folic acid daily. Avoid excessive vitamin A, which may be associated with birth defects.

Do not eat:

  • Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish (also called white snapper), because they contain high levels of mercury. Avoid raw fish and shellfish like oysters and clams.
  • Soft cheeses like feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese – which are often unpasteurized and may cause Listeria infection. The "safe" cheeses are hard cheese, processed cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, or yogurt.
  • Saccharin, because it crosses the placenta and is stored in fetal tissues. However, other FDA-approved sweeteners (Equal, NutraSweet, Splenda) are acceptable during pregnancy.

Limit caffeine to no more than 300 milligrams daily – about two 8-ounce cups of coffee a day. Be careful that you're not getting additional caffeine in soft drinks, tea, or chocolate. Caffeine may affect blood flow to the uterus, which could affect the developing fetus.

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