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Preparing for Pregnancy

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    From Mark DeFrancesco, M.D., an ob-gyn and chief medical officer at Women's Health Connecticut, in Avon. By Rachel Rabkin Pechman.

    Slim down if you're overweight. Research shows that women who are obese before pregnancy are much more likely to have babies with birth defects. Start a healthy eating and exercise plan now. Another healthy move: Avoid high-mercury fish (such as swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish) to rid your system of the potential toxin; a buildup of mercury in your body can harm an unborn baby.

    When: Ideally, 1 year before conception -- or as soon as you start thinking about getting pregnant -- since losing weight healthfully takes time

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  • Stop smoking -- and get your partner to stop, too. New research shows that children who were exposed to smoke in the womb (either from Mom or from secondhand smoke) are more likely to be colicky as infants, overactive as toddlers, and prone to ADHD and aggressive behavior as kids. And smoking while pregnant doubles the risk of ectopic pregnancy and of having a low-birth-weight baby.

    When: 8 to 10 months before conception to give yourself enough time to kick the habit -- or as soon as possible

  • Get a prepregnancy checkup.

    • Discuss your medical history to make sure you're ready for a new pregnancy.
    • Establish a plan with your doctor to get any chronic medical conditions (such as high blood pressure or diabetes) under control.
    • Get screened for STDs (including HPV, if your doctor recommends it).
    • Be checked for nutritional deficiencies, thyroid function, and immunity to infections, like chicken pox, rubella, and whooping cough. Schedule any needed vaccinations now. (Some vaccines require waiting up to six months before conceeiving to avoid risking birth defects.)
    • Make sure any medications you take are safe during pregnancy.

    When: 7 months before conception; this should allow enough time to treat chronic conditions and get necessary vaccinations.

  • Go to the dentist. Tooth decay and gum infections can harm the fetus, so it's crucial to make sure your teeth and gums are healthy.

    When: 5 months before conception to allow enough time to fix damage or have work done

  • Get off the Pill. Your body needs time to clear the extra hormones from your system before pregnancy. It's a good idea to resume a regular period without hormonal birth control in order to get a sense of your cycle before you start trying to conceive. Plus, ditching the Pill well in advance of conception will help the endometrial lining thicken, which may make it easier for an embryo to implant.

    When: 3 months before trying to conceive

  • Start taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid (at least 400 mcg daily). Getting enough folic acid decreases the risk of neural tube defects. Plus, taking a multivitamin containing vitamin B6 (which your prenatal should have) before and during the first weeks of pregnancy can help decrease morning sickness. Another bonus: The zinc in the prenatal vitamin may help to improve fertility.

    When: 2 months before trying to conceive, or even sooner so that when you get pregnant, you'll be getting the nutritients you need.

  • Avoid alcohol. Skip that glass of wine at dinner -- consuming alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects.

    When: As soon as you start trying.

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