How to Plan and Prepare for a Healthy Pregnancy
If you are trying to have a baby or are just thinking about it, it is never too early to start getting ready for pregnancy. Preconception health care focus on things you can do before and between pregnancies to increase the chances of having a healthy baby. For some women, getting their body ready for pregnancy takes a few months. For other women, it might take longer. Ideally, you should take at least three months getting healthy and preparing your body for conception. The healthier you are, the greater your chances of conceiving and carrying a child full-term. Whether this is your first, second, or sixth baby, the following are important to help you get ready for the healthiest pregnancy possible.
Should I see a doctor before I try to get pregnant?
Yes. It’s very important that you see your doctor for a “pre-pregnancy check-up.” Your doctor will ask you about things that could affect your pregnancy. For instance, he or she might ask about your diet, lifestyle, use of birth control, past pregnancies, medicines, and any diseases that you have or that run in your family.
There are several things that you and your doctor can do to make sure that your pregnancy is as healthy as possible. These things should be done BEFORE you try to get pregnant:
- Discuss any medicines or herbal drugs you take and find out if you need to make changes.
- Discuss whether you are up-to-date on your vaccines.
- Start taking a multivitamin that has folic acid (also called folate).
- Know which foods you should avoid and which foods are best.
- Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking illegal drugs.
- Understand the risks to you and your baby if:
- You have any medical conditions.
- There are diseases that run in your family or your partner’s family.
- There is a chance you have an infection that people catch during sex (called a sexually transmitted disease).
- Discuss whether there are any harmful substances in your home or work.
- Try to reach a healthy weight
Each of these issues is explained in more detail below.
Ask if the medicines you take are safe
If you take any medicines, supplements, or herbal drugs, ask your doctor if it is safe to keep taking them while you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Some medicines take a long time to leave your body completely, so it’s important to plan ahead. In some cases, your doctor and nurse will want you to switch to different medicines that are safer for the baby. Your doctor and nurse may need to slowly get you off some medicines because it could harm you to stop them all of a sudden. This is especially important for women who take medicines to treat seizures, high blood pressure, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Check if you need any vaccines
Women who want to get pregnant should be up-to-date on their vaccines. This includes vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, polio, chickenpox (also called varicella), and possibly hepatitis. Many women got these vaccines as children. Still, it is important to check that you have had all the right vaccines. Otherwise, you could get sick with the diseases the vaccines protect against, and that could cause problems for you or your baby. All women should also get a flu shot every year.
Some vaccines cannot be given during pregnancy or in the month before pregnancy. It’s important to get these vaccines more than a month before you start trying to get pregnant.
Start taking a multivitamin
If you want to get pregnant, take a “prenatal” multivitamin every day that has at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. This helps prevent some birth defects. Start taking the multivitamin at least a month before you start trying to get pregnant. It’s not enough to start taking vitamins when you find out you are pregnant. At that point, your baby has already formed many body parts that rely on folic acid and other vitamins to develop normally.
It is important not to take too much of any vitamin during pregnancy, especially vitamin A. Show your doctor the vitamins you plan to take to make sure the doses are safe for you and your baby.
Check your diet
Some foods are not safe for a woman who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. If you are trying to get pregnant, do not eat raw or under cooked meat. Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they can have high levels of mercury. Check with your doctor about the safety of fish caught in local rivers and lakes. Limit the amount of caffeine you have by not drinking more than 1 or 2 cups of coffee, tea, or cola each day. Try to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking illegal drugs
If you smoke, drink alcohol, or take illegal drugs, now more than ever it is important that you stop. Using even small amounts of these substances from time to time during pregnancy could hurt your baby.
It’s not enough to stop as soon as you find out you are pregnant. By then the baby has already begun to form and could get damaged by smoking, alcohol, or drugs. If you need help quitting, speak with your doctor or nurse. There are effective treatments that can help.
Your partner should also stop smoking and using illegal drugs. He should not drink too much alcohol.
Ask about risks
Ask your doctor what the risks to you and your baby might be if:
- You have any medical conditions — If you have a medical problem, it could cause problems for you or your baby during pregnancy. Women who have certain medical conditions should work with their doctor to get their conditions under control before they get pregnant. This includes women with diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, thyroid conditions, seizure disorders, and other problems. If these conditions are not well controlled, they can cause problems for a mother and her baby during pregnancy.
- You or your partner has a family history of a medical condition — If you or your partner has a history of a condition that could be passed on to your baby, you might need genetic counseling. Genetic counseling can help you find out what the chances are that your baby will have the condition. It will also help you sort out what your options might be if your baby does have problems. Examples of conditions that might call for genetic counseling include cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.
- You might have an infection that you catch through sex — Infections that you can catch through sex, also called “sexually transmitted diseases,” or “STDs,” can make it hard to get pregnant. They can also infect and harm an unborn baby. If you think you might have 1 of these infections, tell your doctor or nurse. He or she can test for the infection and treat it. This is especially important if there is a chance of HIV infection.
Check your home and work for harmful substances
People often have chemicals or substances in their home or work that could hurt an unborn baby. Dealing with these substances can sometimes be complicated and time consuming, so it’s important to plan ahead. For instance, people who live in homes built before 1978 often have lead paint on their walls or woodwork. Lead in chips or dust from this paint could harm a baby. Ask your doctor or nurse how to deal with this and other harmful substances you might have around you.
Work on your weight
Women who weigh too little or too much can have problems getting pregnant and problems during pregnancy. You should try to reach a healthy weight before you try to get pregnant. (Use this calculator to check BMI)
Learn your family history
Collecting your family’s health history can be important for your child’s health. You might not realize that your sister’s heart defect or your cousin’s sickle cell disease could affect your child, but sharing this family history information with your doctor can be important.
Based on your family history, your doctor might refer you for genetic counseling. Other reasons people go for genetic counseling include having had several miscarriages, infant deaths, or trouble getting pregnant (infertility), or a genetic condition or birth defect that occurred during a previous pregnancy.
Get Mentally healthy
Mental health is how we feel, think and act as we cope with life. To be at your best, you need to feel good about your life and value yourself. Everyone feels worried, sad, anxious, or stressed sometimes. However, if these feelings do not go away and they interfere with your daily life, get help. Talk with your doctor about your feelings and treatment options.
Have a Healthy Pregnancy!
Once you are pregnant, be sure to keep up all of your new healthy habits and see your doctor regularly throughout pregnancy for prenatal care.
You may use my Pregnancy Calculator to know about important milestones during your pregnancy.