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The more you read, watch and hear about pregnancy, the more confused and overwhelmed you're likely to become. We're here to help, with expert advice on the only 10 things you really need to do to have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
1. Plan if you can
"Start getting healthy even before you become pregnant," advises Siobhan Dolan, M.D., M.P.H., associate medical director of the March of Dimes. (Already pregnant? Just do all these things as early as possible, and try not to worry.) On your must-do-first list: Begin taking a daily multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid, a B vitamin that helps prevent certain neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida; quit smoking, drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs; and see your dentist.
Schedule a pre-conception checkup, too. "Even before pregnancy, it is important to get any existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and eating disorders, under control," says Jose Cordero, M.D., M.P.H., director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Have your doctor review your medications (prescription and over-the-counter) for pregnancy safety; for example, the acne drug Accutane is linked to severe birth defects. Also ask your doctor to test you for sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes or chlamydia that could harm your baby; make sure your immunizations are up-to-date (especially chickenpox and rubella); and have any infections or chronic health problems properly treated.
If you're over- or underweight, try to get into the normal range (more about weight later). And if you think you might be pregnant, avoid saunas and hot tubs; overheating during early pregnancy has been linked to birth defects.
2. Find the right caregiver
"Choose someone who respects you and sees birth as a healthy process and not a disease," says Raymond De Vries, Ph.D., president of Lamaze International and member of the Bioethics Program at the University of Michigan Medical School.
Your best choice is an OB-GYN or midwife with excellent credentials who also respects your opinions and choices. If your pregnancy has been deemed "low-risk," selecting a family practitioner with obstetrical training or a certified nurse-midwife affiliated with an obstetric practice may lower your chances of having labor induced or undergoing a C-section. "Good research shows that using a midwife in an out-of-hospital setting can be as safe as giving birth with an obstetrician in a hospital, with fewer interventions and a more satisfying experience," says Tonya Jamois, president of the International Cesarean Awareness Network.
However, if your pregnancy is considered high-risk because you're expecting multiples, you've experienced previous pregnancy or delivery complications, or you've been diagnosed with certain medical conditions, including diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure, being cared for by an OB-GYN or a maternal-fetal specialist is crucial.