A generation ago, most young couples who wanted to plan when to have a baby were primarily concerned with the state of their finances. Today, however, women who are thinking about having a baby receive a lot of advice on pre-pregnancy health care.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) stresses that making wise choices before you attempt to become pregnant can help you and your baby. Health care before you conceive is known as pre-conception care.
As soon as you decide you want to get pregnant, set up a visit to your doctor. During the appointment, he or she will advise you about any potential risks to you or a baby. The physician should also question you regarding your lifestyle, diet, medical history and use of any birth control.
Other questions should address you lifestyle, past pregnancies, medications and medical conditions that run in your family. Your answers will help plan for any special care during a pregnancy. Here are the most important areas you should deal with before attempting to get pregnant.
Diet and Nutrition
Your physician will review your pre-pregnancy diet and might suggest changes in your weight, use of vitamins or other supplements. He or she will also discuss eating habits like fasting or a vegetarian diet. It’s important to get to a healthy weight before conceiving to avoid depriving the baby of necessary nutrients during the pregnancy.
While being overweight can result in high blood pressure or diabetes – both of which can cause problems during a pregnancy – being underweight causes some women to have difficulty getting pregnant and can increase the odds of having a baby with a low birth weight.
The average woman requires around 2,000 calories a day. Good pre-pregnancy nutrition includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, dairy products and whole-grain food each day. Milk should be fat-free or low-fat.
Most doctors advise women of childbearing age to take 0.4 mg of folic acid each day in addition to the amounts found in leafy dark-green vegetables, citrus, beans and enriched bread and cereal. A sufficient amount of folic acid helps cut the risk of fetal neural tube defects.
Women who follow a fitness routine before becoming pregnant have a greater change of having an active, comfortable pregnancy than those who don’t follow such a program.
Unless medical problems make it unwise, aim for at least half an hour of moderate exercise on most days of each week. You should count all activity, whether it’s a workout in the gym or cleaning your home.
Alcohol, Tobacco and Illegal Drugs
Any type of drug use, drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco can harm your baby. Even if you only use any of these substances from time to time or in small quantities, you risk making it more difficult to become pregnant or hurting a fetus. This is the time to quit.
According to ACOG, some studies suggest that if a male smokes, drinks or uses drugs, the practice can lower his fertility, damage his sperm and have a detrimental effect on the fetus. Living in a home with secondhand smoke can also be harmful.
Certain substances in the environment can make it more difficult for you to conceive or hurt your fetus. Ask your doctor about substances at work or at home to which you shouldn’t be exposed. They can also affect your partner’s fertility.
Among things to avoid are chemicals used in photography, solvents, heavy metals like mercury and lead and pesticides that can damage sperm. Certain medications are also potentially harmful.
You might be at elevated risk and need special treatment if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, seizures or heart disease. Obese women also need careful monitoring during pregnancy. Be sure to give the doctor a list of any prescribed or over-the-counter medications you’ve been taking.
It’s also important to try to get any current health problems under control before conception. Don’t forget to bring immunization records with you and ask your physician if they’re up to date.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)