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Preparing for pregnancy

Preparing for Pregnancy

What can you do to prepare yourself and your body for pregnancy ahead of time? The key is to live a healthy lifestyle. Evaluate your daily habits and take some time to make the necessary changes for you and your future baby. Emotionally, you should be ready to commit to a lifetime of parenthood.

If you have ongoing medical conditions, it is important for those conditions to be stable before getting pregnant. If you have any of the following medical problems, plan to see your doctor or midwife before you conceive:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Hepatitis
  • Herpes
  • High blood pressure
  • Hypo- or hyperthyroidism
  • Kidney disease
  • Lupus
  • Sickle cell trait or disease
  • Urinary tract infections

Obviously, you should report any other medical condition that might have an impact on you and the baby.

You will also be asked about your family history because some medical conditions are inherited, such as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. If these conditions, or any other medical problems, run in your family, you may be referred to a genetic counselor.

Your doctor will also discuss your current medications and health history, including you and your partner's history of any sexually transmitted diseases.

Stop Smoking

Smoking makes it more difficult to conceive, is bad for unborn babies, makes your recovery slower, and puts your child at greater risk of health problems later in life. Studies have shown that women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with lower birth weights. Smoking also increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirths, cleft lip or palate, asthma, preterm labor, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

It is best to stop smoking before you get pregnant, rather than waiting to quit once you become pregnant.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol can have damaging effects on a developing fetus, even in small quantities. When you have a drink, the alcohol rapidly reaches your baby through your bloodstream and across the placenta. Women who have two or more drinks a day are at greater risk for giving birth to a baby with severe long-term effects, such as intellectual disability, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and facial and heart defects. Finally, alcohol may decrease your ability to get pregnant. We don’t know what amount of alcohol is safe in pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid drinking altogether.

What to Eat

A balanced diet is always important and you should try to make the appropriate changes to your diet before you get pregnant. Consider reducing your intake of empty calories, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine. Balancing your diet with foods high in protein, fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy products will make you healthier before you get pregnant. It is not a good idea to try to lose weight during pregnancy; however, being overweight during pregnancy may increase your chances of having complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy. If you are underweight or overweight, it is best to try to reach your ideal weight before you get pregnant.

Vitamins and Folic Acid

Most doctors recommend that women begin taking a multi-vitamin supplement and at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid a day before getting pregnant. Taking folic acid is thought to reduce a baby's risk of developing birth defects of the spine, such as spina bifida. Ideally, you should start taking a multivitamin with 400-800 mcg of folic acid two months before you get pregnant.

Exercise Before Getting Pregnant

Exercising before you get pregnant may help your body deal with all of the changes that you will go through during the pregnancy and labor. The amount of exercise you are able to do during pregnancy will be determined by your overall health and how active you were before you got pregnant.

Stress, Rest, and Relaxation

While you are trying to get pregnant, it is important to try to relax and be as stress-free as possible. Practicing stress reduction techniques and getting plenty of rest and relaxation may make it easier for you to become pregnant.

Stopping Birth Control Pills

Women who are planning pregnancy may stop taking birth control pills just before they are planning to try to get pregnant. When stopping the pill, you may have irregular periods for a while and this can make it hard to tell when you are fertile or ovulating. It might take longer to become pregnant, but the pill has no impact on fertility. The use of birth control pills before you get pregnant does not cause birth defects, no matter how close you use them to the time you get pregnant.

Updated: 12/9/2012

Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Maternal Fetal Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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