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Choose a Healthy Lifestyle

Woman eating salad and smilingMake a PACT to get healthy, physically and mentally, before and during pregnancy to increase your chances of having a healthy baby.

One of the best ways for women to prepare for healthy pregnancies and healthy babies is by adopting healthy habits well before becoming pregnant. While not all birth defects can be prevented, women can lower their risk of having a baby born with a birth defect by following some basic health guidelines throughout their reproductive years. This is important because many birth defects happen very early during pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. We are encouraging all women and their loved ones to make a PACT for prevention. 

Plan ahead
Avoid harmful substances
Choose a healthy lifestyle
Talk to your healthcare provider

Aim for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate aerobic activity, such as a brisk walk.

Preparing for a Healthy Life and Pregnancy

A healthy lifestyle before becoming pregnant is just one step towards preconception health. Preconception health refers to the health of women and men during their reproductive years, which are the years they can have a child. By adopting healthy habits before they become pregnant, women can lower their chances of developing problems during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, miscarriage, or preterm labor. They can also help prevent problems for their babies, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, high birth weight, stillbirth, and birth defects. Getting healthier involves taking the following steps:

  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight: The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is not short-term dietary changes. It is a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
    • Healthy diet: Eat healthy foods that include a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, and lean proteins. Eating healthy before and during pregnancy is important for your baby to get the nutrition he or she needs to grow and develop.
    • Physical activity: Aim for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate aerobic activity, such as a brisk walk. Physical activity can continue during pregnancy to help keep your heart and lungs healthy.
  • Controlling diabetes: If you have diabetes and want to get pregnant, it is important for you to get and keep your blood sugar in control (meaning your Hemoglobin A1c level is within the limits set by your healthcare provider). If you have never been tested, talk to your doctor. For more information, visit Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes and Pregnancy.
  • Getting mentally healthy: Mental health is how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. Everyone feels worried, anxious, sad, or stressed sometimes. However, if these feelings do not go away and they interfere with your daily life, get help. If you are worried about the way you have been feeling, it is important to tell a doctor or nurse about your concerns. Your doctor can help figure out whether you have depression or not, and he or she can help find the best treatment for you. For more information, visit Depression and Reproductive Health.

If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, now is a good time to set goals and choose a healthy lifestyle. To help you make a plan and take action, use this checklist to get healthy before pregnancy.

CDC Activities: Birth Defects

CDC works to identify causes of birth defects, find opportunities to prevent them, and improve the health of those living with birth defects.

  • Tracking: Accurately tracking birth defects is important for prevention. CDC funds 14 states to track major birth defects using population-based methods. State systems use the data from population-based tracking to help direct birth defects prevention activities and refer children affected by birth defects to needed services.
  • Research: CDC funds the Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, which collaborate on large studies such as the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (births 1997-2011) and the Birth Defects Study To Evaluate Pregnancy exposures, also called BD-STEPS, (began in 2014). These studies work to identify what might raise or lower the risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Other CDC research focuses on health services use and costs associated with birth defects, which are important considerations in helping children with birth defects reach their full potential.
  • Prevention: CDC and its partners can use what they learn through research to prevent birth defects.
    • Folic acid: We learned long ago that getting folic acid before and during the early weeks of pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spine (e.g., spina bifida and anencephaly). A 1996 policy to add folic acid to many foods helps to prevent many of these birth defects.
    • Preconception care: CDC and its partners also work to educate women about the importance of preconception health through a campaign called Show Your Love [2.8 MB].
  • Improving the lives of individuals with birth defects: Babies who have birth defects often need special care and treatments to survive and thrive developmentally. Birth defects tracking systems provide one way to identify and refer children for services they need as early as possible. Early intervention (treatment for delays in physical, intellectual, communication, social-emotional, and adaptive development) is vital to improving outcomes for babies born with a birth defect.
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