A healthy pregnancy is one of the best ways to promote a healthy birth. Early and regular prenatal care can help prevent complications and educate women about things they can do to have a healthy pregnancy. Here are a few areas to consider:
Women who suspect they may be pregnant should schedule a visit to their health care provider to begin prenatal care. These visits usually include a physical exam, weight checks, and providing a urine sample. Health care providers may also perform blood tests and imaging tests, such as ultrasound exams. Prenatal visits also include discussions about the mother's health, the fetus's health, and any questions about the pregnancy.
Healthy diet and exercise
With regular prenatal care, women can reduce the risk of pregnancy complications. This is done in part through following a healthy diet, getting regular exercise as advised by a health care provider, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding potentially harmful substances, such as lead and radiation.
Avoid alcohol and tobacco smoke
Women can also reduce the risk of complications to the fetus and infant. Tobacco smoke and alcohol, for example, may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or the unexplained death of an infant younger than 1 year old. Alcohol use increases the risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which can cause a variety of problems including birth defects and intellectual disabilities.
To promote a healthy pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend taking daily prenatal vitamins that contain 400 micrograms of folic acid. The vitamin folic acid is shown to reduce the risk for birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord by 70%. These defects, called neural tube defects, develop in the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman knows that she is pregnant. Prenatal vitamins contain other vitamins that pregnant women and their developing fetus need, too.