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Get a Head Start on a Healthy Pregnancy

Planning on getting pregnant? This guide to preconception care will help you make healthier choices about avoiding toxins.
By Camille Peri
WebMD Feature provided in collaboration with Healthy Child Healthy World

For women who want to rid their bodies and homes of toxins before pregnancy, there’s no shortage of dos and don’ts floating around. In fact, the list can seem overwhelming. So what are the best things you can do to stay healthy and make sure your children will be protected from environmental toxins when you do get pregnant? WebMD talked to some experts to find the latest tips pre-pregnancy health.


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Preconception Care: What’s Most Important

Good nutrition, good general health, and exercise are the most important aspects of getting ready for pregnancy.

Plan a pre-pregnancy visit with your doctor. Talk to your doctor about your diet and lifestyle; medications, vitamins, and supplements that you’re taking; your medical history and that of your family; and any concerns you may have. Your doctor will advise you on preconception care and any vaccinations that you should have before getting pregnant.

"Get yourself into optimal health,” says Joel Evans, MD, author of The Whole Pregnancy Handbook and founder of the Center for Women’s Health in Stamford, Conn. Don't smoke or drink alcohol, and limit caffeine. Maintain a healthy weight; try to get health problems such as diabetes under control; exercise at least 30 minutes a day; and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

“Women who might be poorly nourished -- not necessarily underweight but not eating properly -- may be more susceptible to environmental exposures,” says Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network and the author of In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development.

Make sure you get enough folic acid in your diet, by eating fortified cereal, beans and peas, citrus fruit, spinach, and asparagus. Folic acid helps protect a baby from birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, such as spina bifida, that can happen very early in a pregnancy (often before you even know you're pregnant).

It can be hard to get enough folic acid in diet alone. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women of childbearing age take a daily supplement or multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid before and during the first three months of pregnancy.

Here are some other precautions you may want to take:

Pre-Pregnancy Health: Your Drinking Water

Generally, water from the tap is safe. Your local water utility is required to provide a Consumer Confidence Report that lists contaminants detected in your water. If you haven't received a report, you can call your water utility and request one.

If your home has lead pipes, lead solder on copper pipes, or brass faucets, significant amounts of lead can leach into your drinking water. Exposure to high levels of lead during pregnancy can contribute to miscarriage and preterm delivery, and to low birth weight and developmental delays in babies. Your local health department or water supplier can advise you how to get your water tested for lead and other contaminants.

If there are contaminants in your water, you may want to install a water filter that is certified by NSF International, and which removes lead as well as other pollutants.

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