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Protect Yourself: Diet and Pregnancy

For more than a generation, doctors have recommended that women eat carefully when they are pregnant. Starting in the mid1990s, prenatal health specialists began urging women planning a pregnancy to start eating carefully. The reason? The developing fetus is most vulnerable between days 17 and 56 after conception when critical organs such as the brain and heart are being formed -- and when most women don't know they are pregnant. Prepping for pregnancy can be the foundation for a baby's growth and development.

Several studies have confirmed that women who consume moderate amounts of folic acid every day for at least a month before conceiving cut their baby's risk of neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida, in half. The evidence is less clear on the role of caffeine consumption. Some studies suggest caffeine may increase the risk of miscarriage and low-birth weight babies; most doctors advise women to avoid or limit caffeine intake to two cups or less a day.

The debate over caffeine heated up when researchers at Canada's McGill University published a study that found that women who continued to consume caffeine during pregnancies had a higher rate of miscarriage. But not everyone agreed with its conclusions. Soon after the results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the International Food Additive Council issued a report citing research which said that moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy causes no adverse health effects to a mother or her children.

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