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Protect Your Pregnancy Before You Conceive

Experts say there are many things women can do to increase the health of their pregnancy -- and their baby -- long before they conceive.
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Thinking about getting pregnant? If so, then you're probably already knee-deep in ovulation predictor kits, temperature charts, and maybe even pregnancy test kits.

But while most women are concerned about what happens after they conceive, doctors say more should be thinking about what to do before they even try.

"We've attempted to get the message out there, but I don't think enough women take advantage of the fact that there are things you can do prior to conception to not only ensure your own health during pregnancy, but also that of your baby," says Michael Silverstein, MD, an obstetrician and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Medical Center in New York City.

Stop Smoking

At the top of most experts' preconception "to do" list is quitting smoking -- a leading cause of problems for both mother and baby.

"We still have an epidemic of smoking during pregnancy, and the single most important piece of advice I could give women contemplating pregnancy is to stop smoking," says Bryan Hecht, MD, professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.

About 20% of low-birth-weight births, 8% of preterm deliveries, and 5% of all delivery deaths are linked to smoking during pregnancy. It is important to stop smoking during pregnancy to help give your baby the best chance of survival.

Studies show smoking can also make it harder for you to get pregnant. Smoking lowers a woman's fertility level by directly affecting the ovaries and decreasing estrogen levels. Stopping during pregnancy planning may not only help you get pregnant faster, it will also help ensure that your pregnancy -- and your baby -- starts off in the right direction.

Folic Acid Important

Once pregnant, most women know it's important to take folic acid supplements, which studies show can protect your baby from some serious birth defects, including spina bifida, a life-threatening spinal malformation. What experts say many women don't realize, however, is how important it is to take this supplement prior to attempting conception.

The reason: "Folic acid is important right from the very moment your baby is conceived, and since many women can be pregnant four, six, or eight weeks before they know it, taking folic acid prior to conception is one important way to ensure your body has a good supply right from the very start of your pregnancy," says Carol Bates, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

In fact, Bates says taking folic acid is not only her "No. 1 recommendation" for women trying to get pregnant, she adds that "it's so important that I believe every woman who is sexually active and not using a highly reliable method of birth control should be taking folic acid, just on the off chance that she does get pregnant."

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