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Good prenatal care: Common sense tips before pregnancy

​​​​​​​​​Women of child-bearing age hear it all: "Eat for two." "Don't exercise." "Avoid caffeine." 

Mother and babyWhile well-intentioned, not all the advice is good. Often, the best advice for women concerned about prenatal health is to follow "common sense stuff," according to Peter Johnson, M.D.​, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Marshfield Clinic Marshfield Center.

Even before a woman gets pregnant, Dr. Johnson advises his patients to practice good "preconception health" for the sake of their future baby as well as themselves. He offers five key steps to take before becoming pregnant:

1. Double check your medications. Some medicines (including dietary and herbal supplements) are not safe during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor to determine which ones to continue using.

2. Take prenatal vitamins now. Taking folic acid supplement (400-800 micrograms) for at least one month before becoming pregnant lowers the risk of some birth defects of the brain and spine. Folic acid is often found in prenatal vitamins.

3. Stop smoking and drinking alcohol. The nicotine in cigarettes depletes the oxygen supply to the baby, causing low-birth weight and premature birth. Approximately half of all pregnancies are not planned. Once you find out you are pregnant, stop drinking alcohol and smoking.

4. If you have any chronic illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity, make sure it is under control.

5. Be at a healthy weight before conceiving to reduce the chances of complications during pregnancy.

When you find out you are pregnant, Dr. Johnson said it is important to schedule a prenatal appointment to get both mom and baby on the right track for a healthy ​delivery.

The first doctor visit helps set the stage for the remainder of the nine months. Dr. Johnson helps explain some of the main concerns for new moms, including what to eat, the benefits of regular exercise and how to get plenty of rest.

And when it comes to what to expect, most new moms are most concerned if the baby is developing normally. "By far, every couple is relieved by hearing the heartbeat or seeing the ultrasound," said Dr. Johnson, "and having the reassurance that everything is fine."