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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...

    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.

    Other vaccines like tetanus or hepatitis B shots can be given during pregnancy. In fact, women who will be in their second or third trimesters during the flu season should get flu shots. Your doctor can help you figure out what vaccines you need and when it's safe to get them.

    Stress reduction: It is not fully understood, but the cortisol hormone that the body releases during times of stress seems to make conception more difficult, says Graves. "Stress is difficult to avoid, but exercise, getting plenty of sleep, and developing a good support system can help reduce stress."

    If you've stayed true to a healthy lifestyle over the years, it can translate into a healthy pregnancy -- especially helpful if you're past the "prime" fertility years, says Graves.

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    Reviewed on March 16, 2009

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