Watching Out For Baby Before Pregnancy

Most women know how important it is to take care of themselves while they're pregnant.

But the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for women who anticipate trying to try to get pregnant at any point.

Many infant health problems and birth defects can be avoided if a mother-to-be makes sure she's healthy before conceiving , The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explained Friday. Many factors can harm fetal development and do serious damage early in pregnancy — often before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

The new recommendations, Senay points out, stress the necessity for health care planning if your life plan includes having children. Parents need to make proper health care a part of their life plan before conception — and not just let pregnancy happen.

There are a number of steps women can take to be healthy and benefit both themselves and their future children.

A woman needs to make sure any health issues she has are identified and treated, Senay says. A healthy mother needs to make sure there are no infections or illnesses that could threaten the baby or be passed on to it. Health problems such as diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and eating disorders also need to be treated and controlled.

It's also important for a woman to discuss her pregnancy history with her doctor before she gets pregnant again. If there are any issues that caused problems previously, there's a risk the same problem might recur. Women and their doctors should use the time between pregnancies to tackle the problems that may have led to a prior pregnancy that resulted in infant death, low birth weight, or premature birth.

The guidelines also suggest sitting down with a doctor and reviewing all the medications that might affect the fetus or the mother. Drugs such as the acne drug Accutane are known to cause serious birth defects. All women who mulling getting pregnant should talk to their doctor about any medications they're taking, including over-the-counter medications. They should also avoid exposure at work or at home to toxic or potentially infectious materials.

Lifestyle considerations also come into play, Senay noted.

Among them is not smoking — smoking can result in low birth weight in infants.

Eliminating alcohol consumption is the only way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome.

The new recommendations encourage counseling for moms-to-be about making healthier lifestyle choices to protect the health of mom and baby — choices such as maintaining appropriate weight, exercise and nutrition.

The most important nutrient a mother-to-be needs is folate, or folic acid. Folic acid supplements of 400 micrograms daily are recommended to make sure a woman is getting enough to prevent serious birth defects.