Good health habits and birth defects prevention

January 11, 2022

One of the best things you can do before getting pregnant is to make sure you’re in good health. Being in good health means having good health habits, like eating fresh foods, being active, and staying in a healthy weight range. Not only do these things help improve your chances of having a health pregnancy, they also help reduce your risk of having a baby with certain health problems, such as birth defects.

It’s easy to feel confused when there are so many different tips about health and wellness, but it doesn’t have to be complicated! Below is a short guide to get you started.

Make good food choices

The foods you eat provide nutrients that are important to help you be healthy before and during pregnancy. Nutrients are parts of food, like vitamins and minerals that help your body stay healthy. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Eat foods from the five food groups at every meal. Make sure your whole meal fits on one plate and don’t make huge portions.
  • Cook your favorite foods in a healthier way. Use vegetables and herbs to season your food. Peppers, onions and garlic add flavor to any meal and can help you cook with less salt.
  • Cut back on sugar. Eat fresh fruit instead of desserts or cookies and don’t drink sugary drinks, since they’re high in calories. Instead, drink 6 to 8 glasses of water each day.
  • Talk to your provider or a nutritionist to help you plan your meals.

Being active means more than going to the gym

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get 2½ hours a week of moderate-intensity activity (such as fast walking). This is about 30 minutes, at least 5 days a week. Two of these days should include strength training. You don’t have to do all 2½ hours at once! Instead:

  • Do 30 minutes on most or all days. If this sounds like a lot, split up the 30 minutes by doing something active for 10 minutes three times each day.
  • Get active at home or safely in your community. For example, dancing is an activity that helps you stay physically active. You can dance at home with your children or with your partner.

Why keeping a healthy weight range is so important

If you’re a person who is overweight or affected by obesity, losing even a small amount of weight can improve your health and help you avoid certain pregnancy complications, such as having a baby with a birth defect. The most important thing is to set a goal that isn’t going to be hard to accomplish. For example:

  • If you want to lose 20 pounds, start with a goal of losing 2 pounds at a time. Once you lose 2 pounds, celebrate that achievement. Then set the goal again to lose another 2 pounds until you reach the final goal.
  • Talk to your health care provider to find out a healthy weight for you before you get pregnant. Find out what a good range is by calculating your body mass index (BMI). Enter your height and weight using this BMI calculator
  • Not sure what a healthy weight range is for you? Ask your health care provider what your healthy weight is and ask them to help you achieve it.

Talk to your provider about how you can be monitored more closely during pregnancy if you’re overweight or affected by obesity.