I feel it’s important to empower women to take charge of their own health before, during and after pregnancy. Most women know that they should not smoke, and should avoid second hand smoke, because it increases the risk of premature birth.

Protecting against defects

As an ob-gyn, I discuss with my patients other ways to prevent prematurity or birth defects, including:

  • Don’t use alcohol or illegal drugs.

  • Get control of chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

  • Take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid, a B vitamin.

  • Wait at least 18 months between the birth of a baby and the next pregnancy.

  • Don’t take any medication, especially herbal products, prescription pain medications, or statins, before checking with your doctor.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Avoid fish high in mercury or lead, and steer clear of raw or undercooked meat and unpasteurized juice and dairy products.

  • Keep caffeine intake to one 12-ounce cup per day or less.

What about Zika?

Recently, my patients have had a new concern: Zika virus. This mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus can cause microcephaly, a severe brain defect and other very serious problems for a baby.

The CDC advises all pregnant women to avoid travel to areas with Zika. If you must travel, talk to your doctor and take steps to prevent mosquito bites. If your sex partner travels to an area with Zika, use a barrier method of birth control, such as a condom or dental dam, every time you have sex.

The #ZAPzika campaign provides essential information on protecting yourself, your partner and your family from Zika. Here are the top things to bear in mind:

  • Use spray, keep mosquitoes away. Make sure it’s EPA registered.

  • Embrace the chill. Use air conditioning and window screens if possible.

  • If it’s wet, it’s a threat. Remove still water.

  • Get protected, not infected. Wear clothes to prevent bites. Use a condom to prevent sexual transmission.

  • If you suspect, then connect. Call your health care provider if you are at risk of infection.