I remember the exact moment when the midwife handed me my newborn son, telling me, “It’s a healthy baby boy!” The thrill of having my first baby was extraordinary — the relief of having a healthy baby even more so. I remember the deep exhale and sigh of relief that finally, after nine long months experiencing the mystery of growing a baby inside of me, I could release at that moment.
I did everything I possibly knew to do to have a healthy pregnancy. I read the books, watched the videos, changed my eating habits and downed humongous vitamins. I made it my number one job. Yet despite how many times throughout the course of my pregnancy the midwife reassured me that everything was progressing normally and the baby looked healthy and well, I realized that there are certain things in pregnancy that come unexpectedly. I braced myself for the possibility that despite my best intentions — the love and care I invested in my own health for the sake of my baby — he or she could be born with a defect.
Every 4 ½ minutes a baby is born in the United States with a birth defect — in the wake of statistics like that, it’s not unusual that pregnant mothers be filled with fear and uncertainty for their baby’s future. But they shouldn’t feel helpless: many birth defects can be prevented or mitigated through a mother’s active role in her own health — certain choices a mother makes can reduce the rate at which birth defects occur. And while some defects are not preventable, the miracle of modern technology has made early detection a reality for many, allowing for interventions that can significantly improve that child’s quality of life.
Here are a few tips so that you can do everything in your power to bring a healthy child into the world:
It’s never too soon to start
Healthy pregnancies begin even before conception! If you are hoping to or could get pregnant, one of the most important things you can do for your baby is take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Folic acid helps prevent major defects in the baby’s brain and spine — defects that develop in the earliest weeks after conception, often before most women even take a pregnancy test. For folic acid to be effective, a woman needs to take it every day — in the weeks leading up to and throughout her pregnancy. Fortunately, most over-the-counter multivitamins contain 100% of our daily value for folic acid, making it one of the simplest preventative strategies for busy women.
See your provider early and often
Don’t wait to get pregnant to have a conversation with your provider about what you can do to prepare. Pregnancy is a completely natural state for a woman’s body — we were designed to give birth! But there are many things that you can do in advance of conception to give your body and your baby the best opportunity for a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery. Working with your provider to develop a plan — understanding expectations for things like healthy weight gain, safe medications, proper nutrients, and the changes to expect in your body — can do more than just relieve the stress and anxiety that accompanies the transition to motherhood: women who seek prenatal care early dramatically increase their chances of delivering a full-term, healthy weight baby.
Own your care
There is no one who cares for the health of your baby more than you. Align yourself with a provider who sees you as a critical member of your own care team. Engaging in your care, asking questions, and making sure you understand the answers is one of the best ways to make sure that if a problem does arise you get to resolution quickly.
Above all, avoid the tempting grip of fear and anxiety. Educating yourself, building a secure relationship with your care team, and establishing a plan for your wellness is the surest way to feel empowered in your pregnancy. You are not helpless — you have the ability to create the healthiest and safest environment for your baby to grow and develop.