Planning for pregnancy is one of the most important steps you can take for your future child, health experts say. Good planning can help you avoid pregnancy complications and serious problems, such as birth defects, which affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year, as well as premature birth, the number one killer of babies.

It is important to empower women to take charge of their own health before, during, and after pregnancy. Even if you’re not pregnant, but think you want children in the future, take steps now to give them a healthy start in life.

“Health experts also urge women to wait at least 18 months between the birth of a child and the next pregnancy to reduce the risk of premature birth and other health problems.”

Prepping pre-pregnancy

Among these steps is a pre-conception medical checkup with your doctor. At this time, you can discuss your own health, and all chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure that may cause problems in pregnancy.

You should review all prescription and over-the-counter medications or herbal products you’re taking. Sometimes a change in medications is recommended if you want to get pregnant. At the same time, you can start taking a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid, a B vitamin, to prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine in your future babies.

In addition, it’s a good idea to eat a healthy diet that includes foods that contain folate, the natural form of folic acid. Options include lentils, green leafy vegetables, black beans, and orange juice, as well as enriched grain products such as bread, pasta, and cereals. Health experts also urge women to wait at least 18 months between the birth of a child and the next pregnancy to reduce the risk of premature birth and other health problems.

Lifestyle factors

Some other advice for women of childbearing age is familiar, such as don’t use alcohol or illegal drugs. These can cause lifelong health problems for the baby, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke, because it increases the risk of premature birth and oral clefts.

Being overweight or underweight during pregnancy also can increase the risk of prematurity and birth defects, so it’s best to try to get yourself to a healthy weight and maintain it. Foods to avoid include fish high in mercury or lead, and raw or undercooked meat and unpasteurized juice and dairy products.

And coffee and tea drinkers: Reduce caffeine to no more than one 12-ounce cup per day. These are tried-and-true ways to boost your own physical wellbeing and give you the best possible chance for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby one day.