Five ways women can reduce the risk of birth defects

If you’re expecting soon (or hoping to be), it’s natural to do
everything you can to ensure your baby is as healthy as possible.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of things that can be done

before you even get pregnant

to reduce the risk of birth defects and increase the likelihood of
having a healthy baby. Here are five things you can start doing now.

1. Take your folic acid

Prenatal vitamins

are typically packed with

folic acid
, a type of vitamin B. Folic acid that can help prevent major birth defects
related to the spine and brain. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) recommends that women of a reproductive age take 400
micrograms of folic acid each day because birth defects often occur in
a baby’s spine and brain before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

2. Steer clear of alcohol and tobacco

Alcohol passes through a pregnant person’s bloodstream and to a
developing baby via the umbilical cord. The

risks of drinking

during pregnancy are significant and can lead to many developmental
issues. The same is true of tobacco, which can lead to birth defects
such as a

cleft lip
. Even a glass of

wine is best to avoid

until your baby is safely in your arms.

3. Maintain a healthy weight


body mass index (BMI) over 30 can lead to complications

during pregnancy and also puts a baby at risk for birth defects and
other health issues. If you’re planning on starting a family soon,
strive to reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant. All
expectant individuals will naturally gain weight, but working closely
with your health care provider — especially if you have diabetes — is
key to ensuring you are maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout your

4. Get vaccinated

A baby’s health can be impacted by your infection during pregnancy.
That’s why it’s important to make certain that you

protect yourself with all the recommended vaccines

before you get pregnant. The MMR, flu, and chicken pox vaccines are
particularly important as these diseases can lead to birth defects. If
you haven’t had the Tdap vaccine, it’s recommended during pregnancy.
Not only will these vaccines reduce the risk of birth defects; the
vaccinations you receive while pregnant can also pass some protections
on to your baby.

5. See your health care provider

Every appointment you have with your

health care provider

is important! Before you get pregnant, let your doctor know your plans
and be sure to discuss any medications or health issues that could
impact your pregnancy. Continued visits to the doctor can help reveal
any potential issues and ensure you’re doing what’s best for the baby
at every stage of your pregnancy.

It’s important to note that

it’s possible for a child to still have birth defects

even when all of the recommendations mentioned above are followed. This
is just one of the many reasons it’s critically important to continue
seeing your health care provider throughout your pregnancy. An

, commonly referred to as an OB/GYN, can help identify many potential
challenges through ultrasounds, ensuring your baby will be born as
healthy as possible when the big day arrives.