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A Baby in Your Future? Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

6 women, one holding a newborn If you plan on having a baby this year, the time to start preparing for a healthy pregnancy is now. Even before you become pregnant, there are many things you can do to improve your chances of delivering a healthy infant. And VA has programs to help.

While medical experts don't know what causes most birth defects, they do know how to prevent some of them. For example, taking a daily prenatal vitamin with folic acid - before you become pregnant - can improve your chances of having a healthy baby, according to Dr. Amanda Johnson, senior medical consultant for reproductive health at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center in Cheyenne, WY. Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent major birth defects of the brain and spinal column.

Mothers-to-be should also:

  • Get regular prenatal care. Prenatal care, or the care you receive during pregnancy, includes checkups, tests and screenings to make sure you and your baby are healthy. Your checkups are also an opportunity to ask questions and get information about things you should and should not be doing while pregnant.

  • Adopt and stick with a healthy diet. Your doctor can advise you about the best foods to eat when you are eating for two.

  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs. All of these substances can be harmful to your unborn baby and aren't good for you, either.

  • Stay active. Regular physical activity is important to good health. Your doctor can recommend activities that are safe for you.

  • Manage your chronic conditions. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar level within normal range to avoid complications. Work with your doctor to control your diabetes or other chronic illnesses and any medicines you take for them.

How Can VA and My HealtheVet Help?

Increasingly women are receiving maternity care benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as VA enhances its health care services for female Veterans. Two-thirds of hospitals and large clinics within VA now have designated women's clinics. And all VA facilities have at least one health care provider who focuses on women's health.

Women Veterans Program Managers (WVPM), located at each facility, can help you navigate the health care system. At the beginning of your pregnancy, your WVPM will give you a prenatal care guide developed by VA and the U.S. Department of Defense specifically for women Veterans (find link below). You can find the name and contact information of your local WVPM on your local facility's website.

My HealtheVet has online tools you can use anywhere, anytime to manage your health before, during and after your pregnancy. For example, you can:

  • Use the appointment calendar to track upcoming doctor visits

  • Input and track cholesterol and blood sugar levels, blood pressure, temperature and heart rate and other health information

  • Keep lab and test information in one central place

  • Maintain a healthy weight with online diet and exercise journals

  • Get vitamins, supplements and medicines prescribed by your doctor filled online

  • Download your health record from anywhere to share with any of your health care providers

  • Use 'Secure Messaging' to contact your health care team quickly about any health changes or concerns.

To access key portions of your VA health record, you must be a Veteran enrolled at a VA facility and have an upgraded* My HealtheVet account.

*To upgrade your account, you will need to go through Authentication. This is a process by which VA verifies a Veterans' identity before allowing access to their VA health record. Learn how to upgrade your account by visiting the authentication page at My HealtheVet.

Best of all, My HealtheVet personal information is privacy-protected, and the tools are easy to use. To see your appointments, for example, simply log in to My HealtheVet. Then select the "Get Care", "Appointments" or "Health Calendar" tab. Enter your information and you're all set.

Why not start planning your healthy pregnancy today?

Read More

Folic Acid and Reproductive Health (Office on Women's Health) - Information about reproductive health services.

Pregnancy and Childbirth: A Goal Oriented Guide to Prenatal Care (PDF) - Developed jointly by VA and the Department of Defense, This book, known as "The Purple Book," is designed primarily as a resource for pregnant women. It provides quality information that can serve as a reference, guide, journal, and springboard for further discussion and education.

Pregnancy (CDC) - Information about healthy pregnancy from the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Get Answers to All of Your Pregnancy Questions (Office on Women's Health) - Information on many pregnancy-related topics from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Moms/Moms-to-Be Health & Nutrition Information (USDA) - Health and nutrition information for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Pregnancy (MedlinePlus) - Pregnancy updates by email.

Updated August 16, 2012