Starting a family is a life-changing milestone. For women who are planning, providers recommended taking prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement before trying to conceive to help prevent birth defects. Folic acid has been proven to significantly reduce the risk for neural tube defects, one of the most common forms of birth defects in the United States. About half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so if there is any chance that you may get pregnant in the near future, starting to routinely take supplements is a great way to prepare yourself, just in case.
By consuming proper amounts of folic acid prior to and during pregnancy, women can help prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, which are extremely serious, and sometimes life-threatening, health conditions. Folate occurs naturally in foods such as spinach, black-eyed peas, asparagus, and broccoli. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, and often available in supplement form, such as prenatal vitamins. You can also find it in foods that are often fortified with it, such as certain cereals, pastas, and grains.
To give yourself the best chance for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, you should schedule a visit with your provider for a pre-pregnancy checkup. Your practitioner will likely discuss diet, weight, exercise, and any unhealthy habits you may have (such as smoking or drinking), as well as make sure you're up to date on your immunizations, all of which can affect your health and the health of a potential baby. Women with chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, thyroid disease, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease or lupus will need to have these conditions carefully managed. Even if this is not your first pregnancy, it’s important to see your provider in case you’ve had any changes in your health or if you had complications with past pregnancies.
Depending on the birth control you had been using, if any, you may have to wait before you are able to conceive. If you are thinking about getting pregnant, have a discussion with your provider about what will be best for you.
Once you become pregnant, getting early and regularly scheduled prenatal care is of utmost importance. Women should seek medical evaluation soon after their first positive, in-home pregnancy test or first missed menstrual cycle. Early prenatal care provides a good baseline for the provider to effectively monitor and manage the health of the mother and development of the baby throughout the entire pregnancy; it also offers more options for prenatal screening tests. Expectant mothers in the community are fortunate as Cone Health provides exceptional women’s services that are dedicated to educating mothers and families during pregnancy and providing them with proper care.
Rachelle Denney is a certified nurse-midwife at Femina Women’s Center and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. She received a Bachelor of Science in nursing from Linfield College. Rachelle received both a Master of Science in nursing and in nurse-midwifery from East Carolina University.