Blast from the Past: How to conceive a healthy baby

by Ron Hunninghake, M.D.

This article was originally published in the May 2001 edition of the Health Hunters Newsletter. The advice is still relevant today.

People want to reduce the chance of having a baby with birth defects. People want to have a healthy child. But how?

Let’s take a look at my 24-year old cousin’s perception of how to do it. She is a couple of years out of college and is considering getting pregnant. She has been married over a year, has a new career, a new home, facing a number of money issues and they are wondering where a family fits in. I asked her a series of questions to get her ideas on what she could do to have a healthy baby.

“Do you want to have children?” Yes, she answered, maybe even four. “What is your major concern?” “Getting pregnant,” she answered. She has a medical history of anemia and is wondering about how this might affect the baby. She wants to be in tiptop physical shape and, as a journalist, she wants to be informed. “Where would you get good information?” The internet, pregnancy books, communication with her spouse, her parents, her pregnant friends, and even an appointment with her OB/GYN doctor.

Next I asked her, “What factors affect conception?” She answered stress, physical conditioning, and (with prompting) dietary factors. So I asked her, “What dietary factors play into conceiving a healthy baby?” She said fresh, wholesome foods and folic acid. She is conscious of folic acid, she believes, because she has been taking 400 mcg of folic acid a day for the last three or four years for a medical condition.

“Did you know folic acid prevents spina bifida?” She answered, “What’s that?” Spina bifida is an improper spinal canal closure caused by inadequate folic acid at the time of conception. Anencephaly, another birth defect caused by inadequate folic acid, is where a major part of the brain is missing. She was conscious that birth defects were caused by low folic acid, but believed that good physical conditioning was the best preventative.

“What are some food sources of folic acid?” Green leafy veggies are a wonderful source. Also broccoli, kale, beets, and com have good folic acid. “Enriched” grains and white flour are another good source. Unfortunately, they take most of the nutrients and fiber away during the milling process and then add back a few of them. Folic acid was a recent addition to those added back. Beef, especially liver and kidney, is also high in folic acid.

“My mother ate fish five times a week during my pregnancy,” she said. Fish is good, but not a great source of folic acid. Cooking knocks out about 90% of the folic acid in a food so you want to use foods that are high in folic acid.

Another interesting point is that only 11 % of Americans eat enough of the folic acid foods to meet their RDA (recommended daily allowance).

“What about your wonderful husband? Do you think he is important?”