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Health & Pregnancy

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A Healthy Beginning for Pregnancy

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

Obesity, Diabetes, and Your Baby

Obesity is an especially critical issue for women of childbearing age, says Michael Greene, MD, director of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"Obesity is associated with many complications, because it greatly increases a woman's risk of developing high blood sugar and diabetes -- either before they get pregnant or during their pregnancy," he tells WebMD.

When a fetus is exposed to the mother's high blood sugar early on -- before 13 weeks old -- there is a serious risk of birth defects.

"A mother's obesity and uncontrolled blood sugar puts her baby at high risk for a variety of congenital malformations, including defects of the brain and spinal cord," Greene explains.

And babies of mothers who have diabetes are likely to grow large in size, fed by excess sugar that makes its way into the placenta. "These large babies can be difficult to deliver vaginally, and may require cesarean section," Greene says.

Obesity, high blood pressure, and asthma also put a mother at high risk for developing preeclampsia, Greene tells WebMD. This condition prevents the placenta from receiving enough blood, which can cause the baby to be small. These babies are often born prematurely, which carries its own complications, like learning disabilities. The babies are also at risk for birth defects and death, he adds.

A Healthy Pregnancy: The Right Steps

At least three months before trying to get pregnant, women should see either a doctor or midwife, Graves advises. It's called preconception counseling, and it helps women know the steps they must take to ensure a healthy pregnancy. "A doctor can help make sure everything is in order," she tells WebMD.

To help get everything in order, you'll want to start with:

Your health: If you have chronic medical problems like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma, you must get them under control before you become pregnant. If you need to lose weight, this is the best time to do it -- not after you become pregnant.

Depression is another problem that can affect your pregnancy. If you are depressed when you become pregnant, you are more likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs which can harm your baby. You may also have difficulty bonding with your baby and experience postpartum depression, which is higher in women with a history of depressive illness.

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