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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.

Folic Acid Important continued...

In the past, doctors routinely suggested that any woman trying to conceive take prenatal vitamins since they were the only ones containing high enough levels of folic acid to make a difference. Today, however, nearly all multivitamins contain at least 400 mcg per dose, the minimal amount needed for a healthy pregnancy. So many experts are less stringent about the type of supplements you take during the preconception time.

"I always suggest a prenatal vitamin, but if a woman feels more comfortable taking a multivitamin instead, that's OK too, as long as she is getting at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily when she is trying to get pregnant," says Bates.

The Two-Week Rule

When it comes the dietary or lifestyle factors that might be questionable during pregnancy -- such as caffeine and artificial sweeteners -- doctors say there is less to worry about when trying to conceive. Still, some precautions still apply.

"During the preconception time you really only have to be concerned about what's in your body at the time you actually get pregnant -- and that is usually possible just a few days a month," says Silverstein.

As such, he says, if you confine your intake of caffeine, for example, to the two weeks after your period starts -- a time when you generally can't get pregnant -- and abstain during the last two weeks of your cycle -- when you ovulate and are more likely to get pregnant -- then your conception is probably safe.

"If you find you just can't live without something," says Silverstein, "just use common sense and moderation."

For John Williams, MD, the "two-week" rule does make sense, but he adds that since the timing of conception isn't an exact science, you shouldn't panic if you find you were doing something questionable at the time you got pregnant.

"While we don't recommend throwing caution to the wind, if you do find out you conceived at the same time you were drinking or doing something that you would be fearful of doing during pregnancy, don't panic or terminate the pregnancy, because chances are everything is going to be OK," says Williams, director of reproductive genetics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Easy on the Seafood

The one area where he and others do suggest exercising a little more caution is in the consumption of seafood.

"The problem with seafood is related to the mercury content, and because this is a heavy metal it can accumulate in fatty tissue, so it can remain in the body long enough to cause at least some potential harm after conception," says Williams.

As such, he recommends that women trying to conceive follow the same fish safety guidelines suggested for pregnant women, which is to limit seafood to 12 ounces weekly. Seafood to completely avoid includes tilefish, swordfish, king mackerel, and shark, as well as any raw fish.

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