Did you know that approximately half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned? Of course no one expects to have an unplanned pregnancy. However, this calls for a need for preconception health for all reproductive-aged women (and men!). Preconception planning involves taking steps now to protect the health of the baby you may have in the future. Even if you are not currently contemplating pregnancy, preconception health is about getting and staying healthy overall.
If you became pregnant today, would your body be ready? Follow the tips listed below to make sure you are in tip-top shape for pregnancy!
Maintain a Healthy Weight
People who are overweight are at risk for many serious health conditions. Additionally, being overweight while pregnant increases your risk of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia (disorder involving high blood pressure).
Losing weight healthfully requires a lifestyle change involving making better food choices and getting regular exercise. It takes time to correct bad habits.
In addition, being underweight is a problem when considering pregnancy. If you are overweight or underweight, discuss with your provider about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Your pre-pregnancy weight dictates the recommended amount of weight gain during pregnancy. For example, women with normal weight should expect to gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. If one is overweight or obese, the recommended amount is less.
Regardless of your current weight, a healthy diet including high quality protein, fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals will help your body prepare for pregnancy.
Control Your Medical Conditions
If you have any chronic medical conditions, it is imperative to get these under control to prepare for healthy pregnancy.
Are you diabetic? Work with your provider to get your blood sugars under control. Do you have a thyroid condition? Make sure that your levels are optimized. Is an STI (sexually transmitted infection) a possibility? It is very important that these are treated prior to pregnancy.
Prescription drug use during pregnancy can be tricky. There is not a lot of objective data on prescription drug use during pregnancy because we cannot perform research on pregnant women. Some drugs are thought to be safe to use during pregnancy and some are definitely off limits. Of course, we must weigh the risks and benefits when making these decisions. Talk with your provider regarding prescription medications that you take and if they need to be discontinued upon pregnancy.
Take a Folic Acid Supplement
Women of reproductive age should take 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Women’s multivitamins should contain this but be sure to read the label.
Folic acid helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. It is also good for hair, skin, and nails.
Make Sure Vaccines Are Updated
Prior to pregnancy, be sure that your vaccines are up to date. Adults require a number of immunizations.
“Live” vaccines” (such as measles/mumps/rubella or nasal flu vaccine) are not safe to receive in pregnancy as they can pose a risk to the fetus. Your provider can advise you regarding the vaccines you need.
Smoking, alcohol, and illicit drug use all pose significant risk to pregnancy.
Smoking is associated with birth defects, low birth weight, and pregnancy complications. Try to quit smoking before becoming pregnant.
Birth defects, premature birth, and miscarriage are associated with alcohol use in pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a spectrum of disorders involving physical or mental damage to a child due to alcohol exposure during pregnancy. There is not enough research to establish a safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Therefore, do not drink during pregnancy or while trying to become pregnant.
Illicit drug use is not compatible with pregnancy, for obvious reasons. Click here to find behavioral health treatment services near you to get help.
Learn Your Family History
During pregnancy, you have the option to have genetic testing performed through blood testing and/or ultrasound. This will help you determine if your baby is at increased risk for certain genetic disorders (such as Down’s Syndrome).
Some genetic disorders occur because the parents are carriers of the gene (such as in Cystic Fibrosis). Also, certain ethnic groups are more likely than others to carry genes for certain diseases.
Talk with your family to get an idea of what lies in your history. Your provider can recommend the appropriate screening tests during pregnancy.
See Your Provider
Ladies, make sure you are visiting your OB/GYN for annual visits. This is going to be your point person throughout your pregnancy. Be sure to discuss all of your health concerns with him/her.
Also, your OB/GYN will be working with your PCP to help maintain your health throughout pregnancy.
Don’t Want to Become Pregnant?
Then you need to take action NOW! Be sure to get a reliable form of birth control if you are having unprotected sex. Intrauterine devices (IUDs such as Mirena) are about 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. They are much easier than remembering to take a pill every day. IUDs can last up to 5-10 years.
I could talk a lot more about birth control methods but please speak with your OB/GYN to learn about your options and choose what is right for you.
There are a lot of things to think about before becoming pregnant. Remember, your baby depends on you for his/her health! Keep yourself healthy now to avoid complications later.
What else do you think is important when considering pregnancy? Tell me in the comments!
Disclaimer: Information contained in this post should not be substituted for medical advice. If you think you are having a problem, contact your own provider who knows your health history.