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Doc Talk Doc Talk: Newborn health starts before pregnancy

  • Published Monday, April 22, 2013, at 11:30 p.m.

If you’re planning to become pregnant, now is the time to start preparing for a healthy baby. Many aspects of your health and health habits can affect the fetus in the early stages, even before you know you are pregnant. So don’t wait until the pregnancy test comes back positive before taking care of your health.

The basics of a healthy body are especially important during pregnancy. Try to reach your ideal weight, and stop drinking alcohol. If you smoke, find a way to quit. Quitting “cold turkey” is the safest method to stop smoking. If you are unable to stop smoking despite a strong desire to do so, speak to your health care provider about the possibility of nicotine replacement.

Take a multivitamin that contains 0.4 mg of folic acid daily for one month before pregnancy. Folic acid can help prevent abnormalities of the spine and skull called neural tube defects. If you have a family history of such defects, talk with your doctor about taking a higher dosage.

A complete physical exam that includes a Pap test is recommended. It’s also a good idea to be checked for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV — even if you are not at high risk for HIV. You need to be immunized against chicken pox and rubella (German measles) if you have not had these diseases. If you are not sure whether you have had them, your doctor can perform a test to find out. These diseases can harm the fetus.

If you have diabetes, talk with your doctor about ensuring that your blood sugar is well-stabilized for at least three months before pregnancy. If you have high blood pressure, an evaluation can help identify any possible damage to your heart, kidneys or eyes. Your doctor also can guide you if you have other chronic conditions or if you are taking medications that could harm the fetus, such as certain antidepressants and blood pressure medications.

Talking with your doctor about potential risks can help you make decisions about pregnancy. Tell your doctor if you have a family history of disorders that could be passed on to your child, such as cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, and several others. Tests can determine whether you carry the genes for some, but not all, of these diseases. Chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, are more common in women as they approach their mid-30s.

A significant danger to a fetus is a disease called toxoplasmosis. Carried by a parasite, toxoplasmosis infects many people but is usually harmless in individuals who have a healthy immune system. However, toxoplasmosis in a fetus can lead to blindness, hearing loss or mental retardation. This parasite is spread through the feces of cats. So it is very important to wear gloves when you change a cat’s litter box or if you garden in dirt that may have been contaminated by cat feces.

To avoid food-borne illnesses caused by toxoplasmosis, be sure that all meat (including fish) is thoroughly cooked. Pregnancy is not a time to indulge in sushi or a rare steak.

Most pregnancies are normal and healthy. However, taking these steps can help you avoid some of the problems that may occur and increase the likelihood of having a healthy baby.

Doc Talk is a column about health issues by Wichita-area physicians. This column was written by

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