January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. According to the Center for Disease Control, birth defects occur in about 3% of live births and are the leading cause of infant death. But many birth defects are preventable. With preparation and diligent care throughout your pregnancy, you can help decrease your child's chances of being born with certain conditions.

Before You Are Pregnant

See Your Doctor

When you decide you want to have a baby, visit your doctor to discuss your medical and family history. You should also talk about any medications you are currently taking to determine if they can be dangerous for unborn children. Even some over the counter medications and dietary and herbal supplements can be harmful because they are able to pass through the placenta.

Take Your Vitamins

Begin taking prenatal vitamins before you are pregnant. There are many birth defects, including neural tube defects, which occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy — before you even know you're pregnant. (All women who can become pregnant should take 400mcg of folic acid daily.)

Stop all Toxins

When you decide to have a baby, stop smoking and drinking alcohol. You should also reduce your exposure to household chemicals such as paint, and other chemicals including gasoline. You should also steer clear of cat and rodent feces.

Keep Chronic Conditions in Check

If you have a chronic health condition such as diabetes, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, or even obesity, you must talk to your doctor about steps to take to help you become pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy.

Reach a Healthy Weight

Women with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher have a greater chance of developing complications and suffering a miscarriage during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about maintaining a healthy weight.

After Becoming Pregnant

Continue with a Healthy Lifestyle

After you become pregnant, continue taking prenatal vitamins, including 400mcg of folic acid, daily. Continue to stay away from alcohol, cigarettes, medications your doctor deemed unsafe, and drugs of any kind. If you drink alcohol, so does your baby, since it passes through the placenta. Smoking can lead to premature birth, cleft lip or palate, and even infant death. Quit as early as possible, and avoid second hand smoke as well. Taking illegal drugs can cause premature birth, low birth weight, health problems, and birth defects including those of the arms, legs and heart.

Prevent Infections

Certain infections can be dangerous to you and your baby during pregnancy. In order to avoid such infections, avoid undercooked meat and cold cuts, don't share your drinks or meals with others, don't empty the cat litter, and wash your hands often.

Get Vaccinated

Certain vaccines, including the flu vaccine, are recommended during pregnancy in order to help keep you healthy. Talk to your doctor about which ones may be right for you.

See an Ob-Gyn Regularly

As soon as you find out you are pregnant, make an appointment to confirm the pregnancy and begin the path to a healthy pregnancy and delivery. It is important to your health and the health of your baby to visit your doctor consistently. This is the best way to avoid complications and check for any problems that may arise such as low amniotic fluid or gestational diabetes.

Every baby deserves the best start possible in life. Taking these small steps to help reduce the chance of birth defects is the first good move you can make as a mom.

This advice is not intended to replace the medical expertise of a physician. If you believe you may be pregnant, please see your doctor.