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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...

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.

Alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs: If your lifestyle includes these, quit, as they pose serious risks to a fetus. Get advice from your doctor if you have trouble quitting.

Dental issues: Get your teeth cleaned regularly to control gum disease. If you need other dental work, Graves advises getting it done before getting pregnant. Your gums are likely to bleed more during pregnancy since your body is generating more blood flow, she says.

Medications: If you're taking a medication for a chronic condition, talk to your doctor. Some medications are considered safe during pregnancy. Others are known to potentially raise the risk of birth defects -- like the blood pressure drugs known as ACE inhibitors. With some medications, like those sold over the counter, the effects on an unborn child are often unknown. Your doctor can help you weigh the risks and benefits.

Vaccinations: Your immunizations may need to be updated, so check with your doctor about this. Timing of these shots is critical if you're planning on getting pregnant since some vaccines can be harmful to the baby. With measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and chickenpox vaccines, you must have the shot -- and use birth control -- for one to three months prior to conception, says Graves.

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