Preparing for pregnancy: Healthy choices prior to conception just as vital

photo of woman looking at glass of water

Women should limit consumption of drinking water that is high in nitrate, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Women are often faced with conflicting information regarding the necessary health behaviors they should follow during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. However, many women are unaware that their actions prior to becoming pregnant are just as important.

According to Jean Brender, RN, Ph.D., associate dean for research and professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, studies show more than 50 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned.

“Many assume they should start preparing for pregnancy when they are thinking of becoming pregnant,” said Brender. “However, in reality, women should be healthy and aware of preconception health care before becoming sexually active or at least three months prior to conception.”

Recent studies conducted by Texas A&M School of Rural Public Health researchers, including Brender and doctoral students Mayura Shinde and Ann Vuong, found that taking a daily supplement that contains vitamin C during the first trimester of pregnancy while taking nitrosatable drugs can lower the odds of delivering an infant with certain birth defects that have been associated with these drugs.  This finding underscores the importance of taking a daily prenatal or multivitamin and eating a healthy diet with several servings of fruits and vegetables. It is important, however, for women to consult with their healthcare providers concerning any medications taken during pregnancy.

Women should also limit the consumption of drinking water that is high in nitrate, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy, as studies indicate that such water sources may be associated with the development of birth defects.

Private wells in agricultural areas are the most likely to have higher nitrate levels; municipal water is tested regularly as required by law. Women whose drinking water source is from a private well should consult with their local health department to determine where they might have their water tested or call the federal Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.

“Women who make healthy choices before pregnancy and who maintain healthy behaviors during pregnancy increase their chances of having healthy babies,” states Brender.

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