Planning your pregnancy is the most important action you can take for your baby’s health. Usually by the time a woman knows she is pregnant her baby’s organs are already developing. If a birth defect is going to occur it will happen during the first few weeks of pregnancy.
10 Steps to Getting Healthy Before Pregnancy
Preconception care can help you and your baby have a healthy pregnancy.
- Get a pre-pregnancy checkup. Your health care provider can help you stay as healthy as possible. They can explain how pregnancy might affect you, review any medications you are taking and make sure you are up-to-date on immunizations. Your doctor or nurse may ask to test you for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as immunity to certain childhood diseases, like chickenpox and rubella. It’s a good idea to have these tests done before pregnancy.
- Start taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid for one month prior to conception to help prevent birth defects. Eat a healthy diet that includes foods that contain folate, the natural form of the vitamin. Such foods include fortified breakfast cereals, beans and leafy green vegetables.
- Eat right, maintain a healthy weight and get fit. You’ll feel better and start your pregnancy off right if you eat a variety of nutritious foods every day. Avoid foods high in fat and sugar. Also, cut back on caffeine. Drinking more than two cups of coffee, tea or caffeinated soda a day may make it harder for you to get pregnant.
- If you’re overweight, lose weight before you start trying to get pregnant. If you’re underweight, it may be easier to get pregnant if you reach a healthier weight. Once you start trying to get pregnant, don’t try to lose weight; you could harm your baby.
- Exercise is a good way to help maintain or lose weight, build fitness and reduce stress. If you aren’t already exercising, now is a good time to start. Talk to your health care provider about activities that are both safe and beneficial.
- Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Smoking may make it harder for you to get pregnant. Smoking during pregnancy can put your baby at risk for certain serious health problems. Research has shown that smoking slows the growth of the baby. The best time to stop smoking is before you get pregnant. If you need help, ask your health care provider for advice. Smoke from other people’s cigarettes can also be harmful. Avoid secondhand smoke before and during pregnancy.
- Avoid infections. Some infections can harm a developing baby. Wash your hands frequently. Stay away from potentially unsafe food. Cook all meat and eggs thoroughly. Wash all fruits and vegetables well. Avoid unpasteurized milk products. Avoid handling cat litter or soil; they can contain a parasite that causes an infection called toxoplasmosis. This infection can harm your baby.
- Avoid hazardous substances and chemicals. Some cleaning products, pesticides, solvents and lead in drinking water from old pipes can be dangerous to your baby. Avoid chemicals and paint. Reduce your risk by wearing rubber gloves and working in a well-ventilated area. Ask your health care provider for advice about hazardous substances and chemicals.
- Learn about genetics. Your health care provider will take your health history and ask about the health of members of your family. Based on this information, your doctor or nurse may recommend that you see a genetic counselor to learn about your risk of having a baby with a birth defect.
- Avoid stress. Stress isn’t good for you or your baby—before, during or after pregnancy. Too much stress may increase the risk of preterm labor, low birth weight and possibly miscarriage.
Don’t forget to help Dad get healthy, too! To improve your chances of getting pregnant, it’s important for your partner to take care of himself, exercise, eat right and stop smoking, drinking or taking illegal drugs.
Information adapted from March of Dimes