What can parents do to promote their infant’s health before the child is born?

National Institutes of Health | 9/20/2014, midnight
What is preconception care? Preconception (pronounced PREE-kuhn-sep-shuhn) care is the care a woman gets before she becomes pregnant.

What is preconception care?

Preconception (pronounced PREE-kuhn-sep-shuhn) care is the care a woman gets before she becomes pregnant.

Women can help to promote a healthy pregnancy and the birth of a healthy infant by taking the following steps before they become pregnant1:

  • Develop a plan for their reproductive life.
  • Increase their daily intake of folic acid (one of the B vitamins) to at least 400 micrograms.
  • Make sure their immunizations are up-to-date.
  • Control their diabetes and other medical conditions.
  • Avoid smoking, drinking, and drug use.
  • Strive to get to a healthy weight.
  • Learn about their family health history and that of their partner.
  • Avoid stress by getting mentally healthy.
  • It is also important that women contact their health care provider as soon as they think they might be pregnant. That way, they can confirm their pregnancy and schedule their first prenatal exam.

What is prenatal care?

Women can increase their chances for a healthy pregnancy by getting regular prenatal care starting early in their pregnancy, eating right, exercising, and not smoking.

Prenatal (pronounced PREE-neyt-l) care is the care a woman gets during pregnancy. Early and regular prenatal visits to a health care provider are important for the health of both the mother and her developing fetus. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women who do not seek prenatal care are three times as likely to deliver a low-birth-weight infant as those who do. Lack of prenatal care can also increase the risk of infant death.2

Both the length of prenatal visits and what happens during these visits vary depending on the week of pregnancy. Generally, at each visit, women provide a urine sample, and a nurse checks their weight and blood pressure. They also meet with their health care provider to discuss how their pregnancy is progressing.

Prenatal Nutrition

Pregnant women need more folic acid (a B vitamin) and certain other nutrients in their diet to help ensure that their infant is born healthy. Research shows that taking supplements of folic acid during pregnancy can prevent a type of birth defect called neural tube defects. Usually, a pregnant woman's health care provider will advise her to take a prenatal vitamin supplement.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women who were of normal weight before pregnancy increase their food intake by about 300 calories per day.3 The total amount of weight a woman should gain during pregnancy depends on her pre-pregnancy weight. Women whose weight was in the healthy range before becoming pregnant should gain between 25 and 35 pounds while pregnant. The advice is different for those who were overweight or underweight before becoming pregnant.4

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers an online tool (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html) that can help women who are pregnant or breastfeeding plan their meals to ensure that their nutrition is optimal as judged by intake of specific food groups and stage of pregnancy.

More information about weight gain during pregnancy is available in the "How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?" section.