CBS News Health and Medicine Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says women who might get pregnant should start taking folic acid every day, three months in advance of conception. The idea is to build up the body's storehouse of folic acid, a compound in the Vitamin B group which helps to reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida, a leading cause of childhood paralysis.
The exact amount of folic acid a woman takes should be determined in consultation with a doctor.
Interviewed on the CBS News Early Show, Senay says that checkup is also a good time to have the doctor examine the prospective mother's overall nutritional and medical profile. Senay says the doctor should check your weight, make sure your immunizations are up to date, and investigate or review any problems such as diabetes or anemia.
The idea is to resolve any health problems that are present, or adopt a plan of treatment, so the woman is in the very best shape for the physical challenge which could be ahead, for both her and any baby that might be conceived.
Another suggestion from Senay is a trip to a genetic counselor, to find out if there is a history of cystic fibrosis in the family of either the prospective mother or the prospective father.
What if you are already pregnant, or suspect you might be any day now, and haven't taken any of these precautions?
"That happens all the time," says Senay. "The goal is not to panic...the goal is to encourage women to prepare better so that it doesn't happen. Most times the women, the things they do before they find out they're pregnant, are not a problem. Take the appropriate steps afterwards."
In addition to visiting your doctor periodically during pregnancy, maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough rest and the right kind of exercise, and doing your best to stay off the sick list, there are a few other things you can do to give your baby the best chance for a healthy start in life.
More accurately, there's a list of things you shouldn't do, according to Senay:
- Don't drink alcohol.
- Don't smoke.
- Don't drink more than one cup of coffee per day.
- Don't take medication unless it's been prescribed by your doctor.
- Tell your doctor or dentist that you are pregnant before undergoing any x-ray examinations.
- Don't use household cleaners without reading the label first. Some might not be safe during pregnancy; check with your doctor.
- Don't take a dip in a hot tub.
- Don't change the kitty litter, it could expose you to a illness called toxoplasmosis which is dangerous during pregnancy.
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