But, there are also things you can do to maximize your baby's health both before conception and before your first prenatal visit.
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What One Can Do Before Conception for a Healthy Baby
Once a woman has decided to conceive, there are steps she can take to get a head start on producing a healthy baby before conception ever occurs. The first step should be to break any bad habits that could harm a developing embryo, as conception will occur before a woman knows that she is pregnant.
The next best thing one can do is adopt a healthy lifestyle. Begin a regular exercise routine now. A daily walk is a good habit to take up. A well-balanced diet is crucial. Aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, proteins and calcium to ensure all nutrition requirements are met.
Begin taking a multi-vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects in developing babies.
Visit a health care provider for a general health check-up. Informing them of the intent to conceive. Make sure all vaccinations are updated, as some sicknesses, such as rubella, can cause severe birth defects if the mother contracts it during pregnancy.
A female produces eggs when she herself is a fetus, so anything she is exposed to in her lifetime her eggs are also exposed to; keep X-rays and exposure to environmental toxins to a minimum (Vegetarian Pregnancy: Sharon Yntema).
The father can play a role in the health of the baby too. According to Sharon Yntema (Vegetarian Pregnancy), the sperm that will fertilize the egg begins its maturation process two months prior, so the father should maintain as healthy a lifestyle as possible in the two months leading up to conception.
What One Can Do Before the First Prenatal Appointment and Beyond for a Healthy Baby
The first step one normally takes once pregnancy is suspected is an at-home urine test. Once a positive pregnancy test is revealed, a prenatal appointment should be scheduled with a Certified Nurse-Midwife or an OB/GYN. From the positive pregnancy test until the first OB appointment, there are things a pregnant woman can do to maximize her potential for a healthy baby.
Begin taking a prenatal vitamin containing DHA, which is linked to brain development; however, do not overload on vitamins, as too many of some, such as A and D, can be harmful to the baby. Make sure to inform the midwife/doctor at the first visit of the vitamin being taking. Avoid caffeine as much as possible, herbal teas unless they are verified safe during pregnancy, and artificial sweeteners in excess.
During weeks seven to 12 the embryo's organs are forming, making this the most crucial time to avoid toxins (David M. Priver, M.D. "Your Pregnancy Guide" You and Your Family August 2009). Avoid changing the cat's litterbox, painting, or other known environmental toxins. Minimize exposure to chemicals in the diet by choosing organic foods when possible.
Aim to gain about 2.5 pounds during the first ten weeks (Eating For Two: Mary Abbott Hess and Anne Elise Hunt). Avoid any over-the-counter medications until consulting with a health care provider, as many are harmful to the embryo.
According to Hope Ricciotti, M.D. ("The Pregnant Palate" You and Your Family August 2009), iron and calcium requirements reach their maximum during the third trimester, so make sure to continue taking prenatal vitamins and getting enough calcium in the diet.
Following these tips are important, but most critical is establishing a regular prenatal routine with a licensed health care provider. Regular prenatal care is essential to a healthy baby.