Healthy Pregnancy & Birth Defect Prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women of childbearing age can increase their chances for a healthy pregnancy, and reduce their unborn babies' risk for birth defects by taking some important steps before becoming pregnant.

Because many birth defects occur very early in pregnancy and pregnancies are often unplanned, the following recommendations are important for all women of childbearing age who are or may become pregnant::

  • Get 400 mcg of folic acid every day.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs.
  • Don’t smoke and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • See your health care provider regularly.
  • Talk to your health care provider about your family and personal medical history and about all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and dietary supplements you take.
  • Manage chronic health problems like diabetes.
  • Maintain a healthy weight through good nutrition and regular exercise.

It's also important to limit your exposure to viruses and other infections during pregnancy. Wash your hands frequently; avoid contact with people who may be contagious whenever possible; have someone else change the litter box; and follow all food safety recommendations carefully (e.g., cook meat thoroughly).

Talk to your health care provider about vaccines you should get and about any recommended medical tests or procedures. Make sure to discuss all potential risks and benefits.

About Folic Acid

Folic acid, or folate, is an important B vitamin that is used by the body to make new cells. Women should get 400 mcg (micrograms) of this nutrient every day. Babies born to mothers who get enough folic acid—before conceiving and during the early weeks of pregnancy—have a lower risk for congenital anomalies of the brain and spinal cord—neural tube defects like spina bifida.

Talk to your health care provider about the best way to get enough folic acid—the easiest way is often to take a daily multivitamin that contains it. Enriched bread, cereal, pasta, and rice contain various amounts of folic acid and the natural form of this nutrient—called folate—can be found in beans and lentils, peas, oranges and orange juice, asparagus, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 16 Jan 2014

Last Modified: 22 Jan 2014