WHEELING - The first step to a healthy pregnancy is getting a prenatal checkup, said Dr. Emily Morris, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Wheeling Hospital.
"If you're about to get pregnant, it's really helpful. But most women don't do that. Fifty percent of pregnancies are unintentional," Morris said.
Even those who aren't planning to conceive but are sexually active should still take a prenatal vitamin. This ensures that a baby's risk of developing spinal cord conditions and neural tube defects are reduced.
"The important part is the folic acid," she said of that portion of the vitamin that prevents such defects.
At the very least, women planning to get pregnant should take a prenatal vitamin starting a month before conceiving to help prevent those defects.
During a prenatal visit, the doctor will conduct a cervical cancer detection test called a pap smear, if necessary, and talk to the woman about her medications, family history and assess any possible risk factors.
Morris noted it is easier to handle any potential problems before rather than during pregnancy.
Also during a prenatal checkup, the doctor can determine whether a woman needs to have certain vaccines updated such as varicella, which is to prevent chicken pox, and MMR, which is for measles, mumps and rubella.
Both varicella and MMR vaccines cannot be given during pregnancy. Vaccines that typically can be given while pregnant include the flu vaccine and Tdap, which is for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
To keep one's reproductive system in general good health means keeping one's body healthy.
This includes eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking and reducing one's weight, if necessary, before pregnancy. There also are a variety of contraceptives these days, though birth control pills remain popular.
"The main thing is to have a good relationship with your physician. Don't be afraid to ask questions and let us know when you're going to make a change or if a contraceptive is not working for you," Morris said.