A Healthy Pregnancy Begins Before Conception

Women planning to get pregnant have to take steps to make sure that they are healthy. Avoiding exposure to harmful behaviors and toxins before they conceive can decrease the chance of problems during pregnancy and improve the health of their baby.

Preconception Care is the care a woman receives before she gets pregnant to help promote a healthy pregnancy. Scheduling a preconception care visit with your doctor can improve the overall chances of a healthy pregnancy. Your doctor will likely recommend you to take the following steps:

Develop a Plan For Your Reproductive Life

This plan includes your and your husband’s plans for the number and timing of pregnancies based on your values and life goals. Sharing your life plan with your health care provider can help address any potential problems before you conceive.2

Increase Your Intake of Folic Acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin (B9). It helps produce and maintain new cells. This is especially important during times when the cells are dividing and growing rapidly such as infancy and pregnancy. The United States Public Health Service recommends that all pregnant women and “women of childbearing age [15 to 44 years] in the United States who are capable of becoming pregnant should consume [a supplement containing] 0.4 mg of folic acid per day for the purpose of reducing their risk of having a pregnancy affected with spina bifida or other Neural Tube Defects.” Although a related form (called folate) is present in orange juice and leafy, green vegetables (such as kale and spinach), folate is not absorbed as well as folic acid. Studies show that taking folic acid for 3 months before getting pregnant and 3 months after conceiving can reduce the risk of Neural Tube Ds, such as spina bifida by up to 70%.

Get Up to Date on Vaccines

Ask your health care provider if you need a booster for any vaccines. Some vaccines can be given during pregnancy, but the rubella (German measles) and varicella (chicken pox) vaccines are recommended before you get pregnant.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider About Diabetes or Other Medical Conditions

Getting health problems such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), asthma, seizure disorders, maternal phenylketonuria (a condition in which the pregnant woman’s blood level of a certain amino acid—phenylalanine—is too high) under control before and during pregnancy reduces the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth as well as other health problems for the infant.

Avoid Smoking, Drinking Alcohol, or Taking Drugs

These substances can increase the risk for Sudden Infant Deaths (SIDS), preterm birth, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and NTDs. If you are trying to quit smoking, drinking, or doing drugs and you need help, talk to your doctor about support groups or about medications to help quit smoking.

Strive to Reach a Healthy Weight

Obesity may make it more difficult to become pregnant. Being overweight or obese also puts you at risk for complications during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, and increases the chances of cesarean delivery. Talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight is for you and about a plan to help you achieve it.

Learn Your Family’s Health History

Your health care provider will ask for information about your family’s genetic and health history. You may be referred for genetic counseling if certain conditions run in your family or if a family member was born with a physical abnormality.

Get Mentally Healthy

Good mental health means you feel good about your life and value yourself. It’s natural to worry or feel sad, anxious, or stressed at times. However, if these feelings do not go away and they interfere with your daily life, it’s important to seek help before you get pregnant. The hormonal changes during pregnancy can contribute to depression. Women who are depressed may have trouble eating or sleeping or may turn to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, all of which can harm the fetus.

Next month’s topic: The Care a Woman Needs When Pregnant – Prenatal Care


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