Wednesday, August 3, 2011 12:23 PM

Planning to become pregnant?

Registered Nurse Margie Hill of the Health Condition Management Program at Community Medical Centers offers healthful tips to consider before you conceive.

The potential for birth defects and complicated pregnancies are the last thing anyone wants to contend with when welcoming a new baby into their family. But according to the March of Dimes, nearly 21-million babies worldwide are born prematurely or with serious birth defects.

Here are some simple tips that could help turn those statistics around:

Seek medical attention in the initial family planning stages to reduce the risk of complications.
By being proactive and speaking with your doctor before becoming pregnant, you can decrease your chance of having a high-risk pregnancy. Your physician will consider your family history, medical needs, vaccination records and assess the safety of medications you may be taking. A little prevention can go a long way.

Discuss folic acid supplements with your physician.
Sometimes called folate, this B vitamin is found mostly in leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, orange juice and enriched grains. Studies have shown women who get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily prior to conception and during early pregnancy reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal column (neural tube defects) by up to 70%. The neural tube develops in the first four weeks of pregnancy, making it important for a woman to have enough folic acid in her system before conception. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all women of childbearing age get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day through food and/or supplements.

Good sources of folate include leafy green vegetable, dried beans, legumes, oranges and orange juice. Many grain products are also fortified with folic acid – enriched flour, rice, pasta, bread and cereal. Check the labels for the amount of folic acid in a product. To reach the recommended level you may need a vitamin supplement. Although prenatal vitamins shouldn’t replace a well-balanced diet, they can give an added boost of vitamins and minerals. Talk to your doctor about your daily folic acid intake and ask whether a supplement is recommended.

Start making healthy choices now.
Eating well, achieving a healthy weight before you become pregnant, and getting regular physical activity can help both mother and baby during pregnancy. Avoid smoking, alcohol and drug use. Additionally, certain prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and environmental exposures can be harmful to the fetus and it’s important to avoid them during pregnancy.

Jennifer Avila-Allen edited this story. She can be reached at