A healthy pregnancy begins before you become pregnant. In fact, it begins long before you’ve even considered motherhood. Certain health conditions, risk factors, foods and medications can affect an unborn child if a woman becomes pregnant. Statistics show that half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so maintaining good health and good habits is a great idea even if you are not currently planning a pregnancy.
Whether this is your first, second or sixth baby, the following are important steps to help you get ready for the healthiest pregnancy possible. Women and men should prepare for pregnancy at least three months before getting pregnant.
1. See your physician for an annual check-up. Discuss what you should be doing to prepare for future healthy pregnancies. It’s best to be at a healthy weight when you become pregnant, as being overweight or underweight puts you at increased risk for problems during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about family health histories before becoming pregnant. This information can help your doctor find out any genetic risks you might have.
2. If you have a medical condition, work with your physician to be sure it is under control. Some conditions that can affect pregnancy, or be affected by it, include asthma, diabetes, oral health, thyroid disorders, high blood pressure, obesity, depression or epilepsy.
3. Talk to your doctor about any over-the-counter and prescription medicines you are using. These include dietary or herbal supplements. Be sure your vaccinations are up to date.
4. Take folic acid. Typically, women who are planning a pregnancy (or are already pregnant) should take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day to lower the risk of some birth defects of the brain and spine, including spina bifida. Speak with your doctor about folic acid needs before beginning any regimen of folic acid or prenatal vitamins.
5. Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Smoking, drinking alcohol and using street drugs can cause many problems during pregnancy for a woman and her baby, such as premature birth, birth defects and infant death. Male partners can improve their own reproductive health and overall health by limiting alcohol, quitting smoking or illegal drug use, making healthy food choices and reducing stress.
Studies show that men who drink a lot, smoke or use drugs can have problems with their sperm, which might cause you to have problems getting pregnant. If your partner won’t quit smoking, ask that he not smoke around you to avoid the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.
6. Avoid contact with toxic substances or materials that could cause infection and stay away from chemicals and animal feces. These substances can hurt the reproductive systems of men and women, and make it more difficult to get pregnant.
Finally, if you are struggling with your emotional health, talk with your doctor or another health professional about your feelings. Everyone feels worried, anxious, sad or stressed sometimes. To be at your best, you need to feel good about your life and value yourself.
Good preconception care can improve your chances of getting pregnant, having a healthy pregnancy and having a healthy baby. And, whether you’re planning a pregnancy or not, it’s always a good idea to get healthy!
Dr. Alice Shen is a Steward Health Care OB-GYN.
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