Surgeon General's Warnings
Thinking About Getting Pregnant?

Take folic acid to prevent up to 70 percent of serious birth defects called neural tube defects (NTDs). U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona is urging women of childbearing age to begin taking folic acid supplements right away.

This B vitamin is needed for proper formation of the spinal cord, spine, brain and skull, which begins just 17 to 30 days after conception.

Since roughly half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, all women of childbearing age should take about 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, Carmona recommends. Women with a family history of neural tube defects should take 4 milligrams. This can be done by either eating a breakfast cereal, or taking a daily vitamin supplement, fortified with the proper amount.

Avoid alcohol. Despite more than 30 years of research detailing alcohol’s harmful effects on unborn babies, many pregnant women continue to drink, according to Carmona, who recently issued a public health advisory on the subject.

“The risk of a baby being born with any of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders increases with the amount of alcohol a pregnant woman drinks,” the Surgeon General states.

Fetal alcohol syndrome affects as many as two of every 1,000 babies born in the United States, causing decreased growth, abnormal facial features and brain abnormalities. Because alcohol can harm a fetus even before a woman knows she is pregnant, Carmona urges women considering becoming pregnant not to drink.

--Christina Elston

More Health Notes

Related reading:

12 Tips to Follow Before Getting Pregnant

Alcohol and Pregnancy a Dangerous Cocktail