Health Buzz: Teen Birth Rate Hits Record Low

10 prenatal tips if you're pregnant or thinking about it; how to have a happier and healthier baby.

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CDC: U.S. Teen Birth Rate Declines

The U.S. teen birth rate has hit a record low—but it's still not low enough, government researchers say. Teen births dropped 37 percent nationwide over the last two decades, sinking to 39.1 births per 1,000 females in 2009, compared to 61.8 births per 1,000 females in 1991. That's the lowest since tracking began 70 years ago, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published Tuesday. The data suggests that teen childbirth is highest among Hispanics and blacks, who are two to three times more likely to give birth as teens than their white counterparts. Despite the progress, more than 410,000 teens give birth each year, and the U.S. rate is up to 9 times higher than in other developed countries. "Still far too many teens are having babies," CDC director Thomas Frieden said in a statement. "Preventing teen pregnancy can protect the health and quality of life of teenagers, their children, and their families throughout the United States." The researchers add that teen pregnancy has emotional, physical, and economic costs: Half of teen moms don't graduate high school before age 22, children of teen parents are more likely to drop out of school themselves, and babies born to teen moms are more likely to die in infancy.

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  • Pregnant or Thinking About It? 10 Prenatal Tips

    From conception to delivery, a fetus is at the mercy of its environment. A mother-to-be has more control over her internal chemistry than she might think, and her odds of having a healthy baby will be much improved if she follows these tips, U.S. News reports.

    1. Take steps even before you're pregnant. If there's a chance you'll conceive, take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to guard against preventable birth defects such as spina bifida. Also ask your doctor about getting vaccinations against chickenpox and rubella before you try to get pregnant. These and a few other "live" vaccines cannot be given to pregnant women, but if contracted during pregnancy the illnesses can cause birth defects.

    2. Don't delay an OB visit. Early blood tests can catch anemia and infections that can affect the fetus if not dealt with quickly. Plus, congenital problems such as fetal heart abnormalities often can be detected and addressed during pregnancy.

    3. Write down all meds. Your doctor should review your drugs, vitamins, and supplements. Some of them, such as certain antidepression and seizure medications, can harm your baby's heart and increase your risk of miscarriage.

    4. Don't drink. Binge drinking is particularly dangerous to the fetus; known risks include miscarriage, stillbirth, and mental retardation. It may cause facial deformities such as cleft lip and cleft palate. [Read more: Pregnant or Thinking About It? 10 Prenatal Tips.]

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    • How to Have a Happier, Healthier, Smarter Baby

      Pregnant women have tweaked their diets, tried prenatal education tricks, and attempted whatever else baby books and doctors have recommended—all in the quest to have happier, healthier, and perhaps even smarter babies. Mothers-to-be have latched onto fish oil, to cite one example, because of studies crediting omega-3 fatty acids for producing brighter babies and lowering mothers' risk of postpartum depression.

      Recent research, however, supports none of the above. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association of more than 2,000 pregnant women who took either fish oil or vegetable oil capsules found no benefit in cognitive or language skills in babies born to fish oil-taking mothers. (Nor did fish oil seem to alleviate postpartum depression.)

      So what can women do to enhance their babies' prenatal experiences and give them a leg up when they enter the world? In her book Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, journalist Annie Murphy Paul explores the burgeoning field of fetal origins, which examines how the conditions we encounter before birth influence us down the line. U.S. News spoke with Paul, who shared her insight on which prenatal behaviors withstand scientific scrutiny—and which are shaky at best. [Read more: How to Have a Happier, Healthier, Smarter Baby.]