Want to Have a Healthy Baby? A Pre-Pregnancy Checklist for Women Planning a Pregnancy

Want to give your baby the best chance of being born healthy? Begin long before you get pregnant, says Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President and Dean of Morehouse School of Medicine and an obstetrician by training,

"The most important thing I would say is take your prenatal vitamins," says Dr. Montgomery Rice

Start taking a multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of Folic acid -- a B vitamin -- babies need for growth and development. Taking Folic acid before pregnancy and for the first trimester can help prevent brain and spinal cord defects.

March of Dimes encourages women to go in for a pre-conception checkup. Work with your physician to address any health concerns you have, and ask what you can do to get into the healthiest shape possible going into the pregnancy.

"Try to get your weight to as normal a weight as possible. If you have diabetes or hypertension, get that under control," says Montgomery Rice.

And timing is important, too. March of Dimes strongly encourages women to wait a year and a half between giving birth and getting pregnant again, to allow their bodies time to fully recover.

Dr. Montgomery Rice says, "We talk about 18 months. That's the magical time between pregnancies that really does make a difference in decreasing your chance of having a preterm birth."

If you're not active, ask your doctor what you can do to start exercising. And rethink your diet to make sure you're getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats..

You also want to check and make sure you're up to date on vaccinations going into your pregnancy.

Dr. Montgomery Rice says talk to your doctor about the medications you're taking. They may need to be adjusted because of your pregnancy.

She says a big must-do for women hoping to have a healthy baby: quit drinking alcohol and quit smoking.

She says, "If we could say anything to women, please (don't smoke). Not just because you want to have a baby, but for your overall quality of life and quantity of life will increase if you don't smoke... So you can be there for your baby."

For more tips on how to plan a healthy pregnancy, visit marchofdimes.org.