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Steps Women Can Take for Healthier Babies

Many birth defects happen very early in pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Remember that about half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

Here are some steps a woman can take to get ready for a healthy pregnancy:

  • Graphic: Sample label of Supplemental FactsTake a vitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) folic acid every day.
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs.
  • Keep hands clean by washing them often with soap and water to prevent infections.
  • See a health care professional regularly. Talk with the healthcare professional about any medical problems (such as obesity, diabetes, seizures, etc.) and medicine use (both prescription and over-the-counter).
  • Ask about avoiding any substances at work or at home that might be harmful to a developing baby.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and foods made from it.
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.

Photo: A waomn talking to her healthcare professionalWhile pregnant:

  • Keep up these healthy habits.
  • Get early prenatal care and go to every appointment.

Want to know more?

Ask your healthcare professional or local health department how to plan for a healthy baby.

What Is CDC Doing about Birth Defects?

Tracking birth defects: CDC believes that it is important to have a system to track birth defects to see when and where they happen. CDC uses different systems to look for changes and then tells the public about these trends. We base our research studies, for example causes of certain birth defects, on what we learn from tracking. In addition, our systems guide how we plan and evaluate ways to prevent birth defects. Learn more about tracking birth defects.

Researching birth defects: Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors. These factors include our genes, our behaviors, and things in the environment. For some birth defects, we know the cause. But for most, we don't. And we don't understand well how factors work together to cause birth defects. Research helps us answer many of these questions. CDC has been doing research in this field for over 40 years. And we have funded other scientists to do research in the US and abroad. Learn more about birth defects research.

Preventing birth defects: Although we do not know the cause of most birth defects, the good news is that we know how to prevent some birth defects. CDC is working to find out how to prevent others. Scientists study data gathered from our birth defects monitoring systems to learn more. Currently, CDC's birth defects prevention efforts focus on folic acid use and alcohol abstinence before and during pregnancy. But, research suggests that many other important health behaviors may play a role in birth defects prevention. Learn more about our efforts to prevent birth defects.

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