Babies of mothers who don’t get prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and five times more likely to have complications. Doctors can spot any potential health problems early when they see mothers regularly, and early treatment can cure many problems and prevent others.

Hamm suggests taking a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin with 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day; eating a variety of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and drinking plenty of fluids, especially water.

Also, be sure to get your flu shot. Pregnant women can get very sick from the flu and may need hospital care. Whooping cough vaccines are also recommended. In general, pregnant women should take steps, such as washing hands frequently, to avoid illness. You can protect yourself and your baby from food-borne illnesses, including toxoplasmosis and listeria, by washing fruits and vegetables before eating; not eating uncooked or undercooked meats or fish; and limiting consumption of fish with lots of mercury, including swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish.

Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs. Unless your doctor tells you not to, try to get at least 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. Get plenty of sleep and find ways to control stress. Hamm also advises that you stay away from chemicals like insecticides, solvents (such as some cleaners or paint thinners), lead, mercury and paint (including paint fumes). Not all products have pregnancy warnings on their labels. If you’re unsure if a product is safe, ask your doctor before using it.

You can reach UofL Physicians-OB/GYN & Women’s Health at 502-588-4400.

Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health articles from the “UofL Physicians-Insider” newsletter. Read the entire December Issue (opens as a PDF document).