If you are planning to become pregnant, taking certain steps can help reduce risks to both you and your baby. Being in good health before deciding to become pregnant is almost as important as maintaining a healthy body during pregnancy.
The first few weeks are important to a child’s development. But many women don’t realize they are pregnant until several weeks after conception. Taking care of yourself before becoming pregnant is the best thing you can do for you and your baby.
One of the most important steps in preparing for a healthy pregnancy is to get a preconception exam. The exam is done by your healthcare provider before you become pregnant. During that visit, your provider will check your overall health. They will let you know of any possible risk factors that may make pregnancy difficult. You can also get advice and treatment for health problems that may be changed by pregnancy. These include problems such as diabetes or heart disease. By preparing in advance, you can be your healthiest before becoming pregnant. A preconception exam may include:
Family health history. Your health history will help find out if any family member has had any health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or a developmental disability.
Genetic testing. A review of any possible genetic problems should be done since several may be passed down in families. These include problems such as cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, and sickle cell anemia. Some genetic problems can be found by blood tests before pregnancy.
Your health history. Your healthcare provider will review your personal health history to find out the following:
Health problems that need special care during pregnancy, such as epilepsy, diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, or allergies
Past pregnancy history, including the number, length of pregnancy (gestation), previous pregnancy complications, or pregnancy losses
Updated vaccines. Make sure you are up-to-date on your vaccines. Your healthcare provider may want to check your immunity to rubella or German measles. Getting this disease during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or birth defects. If you are not immune, you may get a vaccine 1 month before conception to give you immunity. Most vaccines should not be given during pregnancy.
Infection check. This is done to find out if you have any type of infection that could be harmful to you and your unborn baby.
You can take steps to help reduce your risk for complications. These steps will help you prepare for a healthy pregnancy and delivery. They include:
Quit smoking. If you are a smoker, stop smoking now. Studies have shown that babies born to mothers who smoke tend to be born too soon or have a lower birth weight. They have a higher chance of birth defects such as cleft lip or palate. They are also more likely to be stillborn or die of SIDS. Also, being exposed to secondhand smoke makes you more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby.
Eat well. Eating a balanced diet before and during pregnancy is good for your overall health. It is also needed for nourishing your unborn baby.
Maintain a healthy weight and exercise. It is important to exercise regularly and stay at a healthy weight before and during pregnancy. If you are overweight, you may have health problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Being underweight may put your baby at risk of having a low birth weight.
Manage your health problems. Take control of your current health problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Prevent birth defects. Take 400 mcg of folic acid each day, or as directed by your healthcare provider. Folic acid is a nutrient found in some green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and vitamin supplements. Folic acid can help reduce the risk for birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (neural tube defects). If you have a family history of spina bifida, congenital heart defects, or cleft lip or palate, your healthcare provider may prescribe extra folic acid.
Don't drink alcohol. Any kind of alcoholic drink is harmful during pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and developmental delays.
Report your medicines. Tell your healthcare provider of any medicines you are currently taking. This includes any prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and herbal supplements you are taking. Some may have harmful effects on the developing baby.
Stay away from harmful chemicals. Stay away from harmful chemicals and substances, such as lead and pesticides. If it is medically necessary, some X-rays are OK to have during pregnancy. Being exposed to high levels of radiation and some chemicals may be harmful to your developing baby.
Prevent infection. Don't eat undercooked meat or raw eggs. Also stay away from cat feces and litter. This is because these may put you at risk for toxoplasmosis. This problem can cause serious illness or death of the unborn baby.
Take daily vitamins. Begin taking a prenatal vitamin every day. This will help make sure that your body gets all the needed nutrients and vitamins to nourish a healthy baby.
Get help for domestic violence. If you are abused before pregnancy, you may be at risk for increased abuse during pregnancy. Your healthcare provider can help you find community, social, and legal resources to help you deal with domestic violence.