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Taking Care of Your Body

Clean Up Your Act Before Conception

WebMD Feature

There's nothing like a fetus to keep you honest. No matter how much health sense you might choose to ignore when the consequences are only yours, it's a different ballgame with a baby on the way. So it's natural for women to shun unhealthful substances or behavior during pregnancy.

But prenatal sages have a new message these days: You'd better come clean first.

The standard pregnancy do's -- eat right, cut out cigarettes and alcohol, ease up on caffeine -- should all crank into gear three months before conception, not after the fact, experts warn. "Pregnancy is no longer nine months -- it's 12," says Dr. Robert Cefalo, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and coauthor of "Preconceptional Health Care: A Practical Guide."

Why all the fuss? Allowing extra prep time to deal with medical, social or environmental factors that could complicate your pregnancy is critical because it's during the very early weeks after conception -- when most couples still don't know they're pregnant -- that a baby's organs are developing. "The fetus is most sensitive to any little adverse event or drug between 17 and 56 days," Dr. Cefalo says.