If you are thinking about becoming pregnant or are currently expecting, it is important to be aware of your current health to reduce the risk for birth defects. Unfortunately, some defects cannot be prevented. If your baby does have a birth defect or fetal condition, modern medical technology and treatments are now available that have revolutionized an affected baby’s ability to survive and thrive after birth!
Though not all birth defects can be avoided, prenatal care and awareness of past or current conditions can help with prevention. To ease any worries before pregnancy, make a commitment to yourself to get healthy before and during pregnancy by actively planning ahead, avoiding harmful substances, choosing a healthy lifestyle, and talking with a trusted healthcare provider.
Being aware of your current or past conditions is a crucial part of planning ahead before putting your body through a new journey. Speak to a trusted care provider about your health conditions, have 360 (full spectrum) lab work done, and create a plan to reach optimal well-being before and during pregnancy.
If you previously had a pregnancy with a birth defect, it is important to find out the most likely causes because it can help your physician plan preventive measures for your next pregnancy. For example, spina bifida is caused by a deficiency in folate, so if your previous pregnancy had spina bifida, you can increase your consumption of folate to help prevent future spina bifida diagnosis.
Lifestyle Choices to Promote Prenatal Care
- Get enough folic acid, a B vitamin. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body at least one month before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the developing brain and spine (anencephaly and spina bifida). Women can get folic acid from foods or supplements, or a combination of the two. It is important to get the right type of folate so that your body can use it for optimal health for your baby. We can help direct you in finding what is best for you.
- Avoid alcohol at any time during pregnancy. Alcohol in a woman’s bloodstream passes to the developing baby through the umbilical cord. There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including wine and beer. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities.
- Avoid smoking. The dangers of smoking during pregnancy include preterm birth, certain birth defects (cleft lip or cleft palate), and infant death. Even being around tobacco smoke puts a woman and her pregnancy at risk for problems. Quitting smoking before getting pregnant is best. For a woman who is already pregnant, quitting as early as possible can still help protect against some health problems for the baby, such as low birth weight. It is never too late to quit smoking.
- Avoid drugs before and during pregnancy. Marijuana is the illicit drug most commonly used during pregnancy. Since we know of no safe level of marijuana use during pregnancy, women who are pregnant, or considering becoming pregnant, should not use marijuana, even in states where marijuana is legal. Women using marijuana for medical reasons should speak with their doctor about an alternative therapy with pregnancy-specific safety data.
- Prevent infections. Some infections that a woman can get during pregnancy can be harmful to the developing baby and can even cause birth defects.
- Avoid overheating and treat fever promptly. During pregnancy, a woman should avoid overheating and treat fever promptly. Overheating can increase a woman’s chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect. It can be caused by a fever or exposure to excessive temperatures (like getting in a hot tub) that increases a woman’s core temperature. Protecting against infections, treating fever promptly, limiting environmental exposures known to increase core body temperatures (like getting in a hot tub), and consuming 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day can help reduce the chance of having a baby born with a neural tube defect.
Tips to Maintain Health Before and During Pregnancy
- Strive to reach and maintain a healthy weight. A woman with too much unhealthy weight or too little healthy weight before pregnancy is at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy. Even if a woman is not actively planning a pregnancy, achieving a healthy weight can help boost health and mood. If a woman is unsure of her optimal weight, she should talk with a trusted doctor about her body and ways to reach her optimal weight safely before pregnancy.
- Talk to a trusted healthcare provider about your medications. Certain medications can cause serious birth defects if they are taken during pregnancy. If a woman is pregnant or planning a pregnancy, she should not stop taking medications she needs or begin taking new medications without first talking with a trusted healthcare provider. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as dietary and herbal products.
- Avoid environmental chemicals. Because chemicals and toxins can pass through the placenta and directly into the fetus’ blood supply, it is critical that pregnant women avoid exposure to any potential toxins. The most common toxins in daily life include solvents such as oil-based paints and paint thinner, gasoline, lead in some paints, contaminated water, and pesticides. Your best bet: avoid toxins at all costs. If you work in a high-risk profession, such as conventional agriculture or anything that involves exposure to industrial cleaners, solvents, paints, or gasoline, find a way to eliminate exposure – we recommend Sunlighten™ Sauna Detoxification.
Suggested Supplements for a Healthy Pregnancy & Birth*
Generally, when you are pregnant, it makes sense to be cautious with the use of herbs and supplements. But these four supplement options (in addition to folate and iodine, if necessary) are safe during pregnancy and can improve the health of your baby, even before birth:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: critical for neurological and early visual development of the baby, and may also prevent preterm labor and delivery, lower the risk of preeclampsia, and increase birth weight.
- Probiotics: studies show they are safe during pregnancy, and help babies culture their own beneficial gut bacteria when they pass through the birth canal. This initial “dose” of probiotics can help prevent ear and other infections, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases, and other illnesses.
- Multivitamins: because developmental phases of pregnancy are so critical, nutrient deficiencies can have lasting consequences. Choose one that is specially formulated for pregnancy and includes folate, as well as iron and iodine, if needed.
- Vitamin D: some studies suggest it may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, and it is also critical for fetal bone and hormone development.
*For more personalized supplements and dosage recommendations schedule with our Functional Pharmacist!
Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it also can be stressful. Knowing that you are doing all that you can to get ready for pregnancy, staying healthy during pregnancy, and giving your baby a healthy start in life will help you to have peace of mind.
Al-Gailani S. (2014). Making birth defects ‘preventable’: pre-conceptional vitamin supplements and the politics of risk reduction. Studies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences, 47 Pt B, 278–289. doi:10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.10.009