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Make Baby Smarter, Healthier And...a Girl (or Boy)?

You’re in control of more than you probably think. Here’s what you can and can’t influence about baby before conception.
ByElena Donovan Mauer
Updated
May 16, 2017
little girl playing doctor with stethoscope on pregnant mom
Image: Tim Robberts / Getty Images

Birth Defect Risk

The number-one to-do on your list while you’re trying to conceive should be to take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day — most women don’t get enough of this B vitamin in their diet (good news: most multivitamins already have folic acid — check yours out). Taking folic acid before you get pregnant and in your early pregnancy will help your future baby’s future brain and spinal cord develop and can prevent serious birth defects.

Also, you’ll want to ask your doctor about all your medications and supplements, and stop taking anything she doesn’t okay, since some products could cause defects. Recreational drugs, smoking and excessive alcohol? Nix those too.

Brain Development

So taking folic acid helps baby’s brain develop properly, but did you know your thyroid does too? “Optimizing your thyroid hormone optimizes the neuropsychological development of baby,” says Natalie Burger, MD, a fertility specialist at Texas Fertility Center. Basically, that just means checking your thyroid to make sure it’s functioning properly and getting treatment if it’s not. So if you haven’t had a preconception exam with your doctor, schedule one. She can make sure your thyroid is A-OK.

Overall Health

According to the March of Dimes, being  overweight when you become pregnant can have serious health effects on baby, including being overweight himself and developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance later in life. “Excess BMI [over 25] is associated with difficulty getting pregnant and birth defects, as well as other pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, the need for a c-section and stillbirth,” says Burger. So losing the extra pounds now could make baby healthier.

Other ways to boost baby’s health? Make sure you’re getting treatment for any medical conditions you have, such as diabetes and autoimmune disorders, and make sure you’re up to date on your vaccinations, since getting rubella or varicella (German measles or chicken pox) during pregnancy could cause infection and complications. And don’t overdo the caffeine, which has been linked to miscarriage risk and stunted fetal growth.
 
Gender

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There are some rumors that you can boost your odds of conceiving a boy or a girl depending on when in your cycle you conceive baby and what foods you eat while you’re TTC, but don’t expect that to work. “There’s no merit that you can change the gender at conception — there are some studies that suggest you can, but they’re weak,” says Burger. “And there’s not yet enough information for a fertility specialist to advise on any particular technique to influence gender.”

Interestingly, modern medicine, does offer high-tech ways to up the odds of conceiving a boy or a girl — if you’re doing fertility treatments. “A few fertility clinics offer ‘sperm sorting,’ which can increase the relative concentration of ‘girl-producing’ or ‘boy-producing’ sperm; this sperm can then be used in insemination. However, this is far from 100 percent,” says Burger. “Another high-tech way to influence gender is through preimplantation genetic screening, when an embryo can be biopsied to see if it’s male or female; this requires IVF.”
 
Appearance and Personality

Sorry, but if you’re hoping to alter baby’s eye color, height or personality, it’s not happening. There’s no way to influence personal or physical traits in baby. But, honestly, who would want to? We have no doubt that once you have baby, you’ll love exactly how she (or he) looks and acts — unconditionally.
 
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