How to give your new baby a healthy start in life


healthy pregnancy

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Planning for your pregnancy is one of the most important steps you can take to give your baby a healthy start in life, health experts say, and the New Year is a great time to start developing good health habits.

An easy resolution all women to follow in 2016, even before pregnancy, is to take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid, a B vitamin, every day to prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine in their future babies. Prenatal vitamins may also help women who are anemic or have heavy periods (and therefore lower levels of iron), regardless of whether they plan to have children.

In addition, it's a good idea for everyone — including women who plan to have babies — to eat a healthy diet that includes foods that contain folate, the natural form of folic acid, including lentils, green leafy vegetables, black beans and orange juice, as well as enriched grain products such as bread, pasta and cereals.

The March of Dimes also urges women to wait at least 18 months between the birth of a child and the next pregnancy to reduce the risk of premature birth and other health problems.

But there are more ways that women can take charge of their pregnancy:

  1. Get control of any chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure with help from your health care provider.
  2. Don't use alcohol or illegal drugs. They can cause lifelong health problems for the baby, including fetal alcohol syndrome.
  3. Don't smoke and avoid second hand smoke because it increases the risk of premature birth and oral clefts.
  4. Check with your doctor before taking any medication, especially herbal products, prescription pain medications and statins. Some studies have found that women who took some prescription pain medications had a higher risk of having a baby with a heart defect, neural tube defect or gastroschisis, a hole in the abdominal wall.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or underweight can increase the risk of prematurity and birth defects.
  6. Avoid fish high in mercury or lead, and steer clear of raw or undercooked meat and unpasteurized juice and dairy products.
  7. Reduce caffeine to no more than one 12-ounce cup per day.

Birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January is Birth Defects Prevention Month, and January 3rd through 9th is set aside for Folic Acid Awareness Week.