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Planning for pregnancy
Contemplating pregnancy? Precautions you take before conception can protect your future baby.
You're not pregnant—yet. But if you're in the thinking-it-over stage, you should start taking care of yourself. One of the best ways to increase your chances of having a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby is to take certain precautions before you conceive.
What's the rush? A key reason to start planning now is that many women don't realize they're pregnant until several weeks after they've conceived. And these beginning weeks of pregnancy are exactly when a baby's organs start forming.
A woman who takes safeguards before conception—such as giving up cigarettes if she smokes—reduces her baby's risk of being exposed to harmful substances.
A pre-pregnancy checkup
Of all the precautions you might take, one of the most essential is to see a doctor before you become pregnant—ideally, at least three months in advance, according to the Office on Women's Health.
This checkup is a chance for your doctor to evaluate your health and lifestyle and identify any hidden health problems or habits that might be dangerous for a developing baby. Among other things, your doctor will:
- Ask what medicines you take, both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Though many medicines are safe for a fetus, some—among them, even ibuprofen—may be risky, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cautions. Certain herbal remedies and vitamin or mineral supplements may also be harmful.
- Make sure your immunizations are up-to-date. Vaccines can help keep you safe from diseases such as rubella that might harm an unborn baby. Some vaccines aren't safe to get during pregnancy. If you need vaccines, the college recommends getting them before you start trying to conceive. Some vaccines you should get at least one month before you begin trying to become pregnant.
- Talk to you about folic acid. All women need 400 micrograms of this B vitamin every day to reduce the risk of having a baby born with birth defects in the spine or brain. While pregnant, you may need even more folic acid.
For a healthy baby, try this
Your preconception visit is, of course, only the first step in preparing yourself for pregnancy. Before conception, it's also in your future baby's best interest for you to follow this advice from the college:
- Work closely with your doctor to make sure any chronic condition you might have—such as diabetes or asthma—is well controlled.
- Strive for a healthy weight. Being too thin may make it hard for you to get pregnant. It also raises your risk of delivering a frail, underweight baby. Carrying too many pounds, on the other hand, increases your chance of developing diabetes or high blood pressure when you're expecting. And pregnancy is not a time to try to slim down.
- Move more. Being physically active will boost your chances of a comfortable, active pregnancy. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. But get a doctor's OK if you have any medical problem that could be made worse by exercise.
- Improve your diet if it's not well balanced. Add vegetables (especially orange or dark green ones), fruits, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products to your diet. Cut back on sugary, salty or fatty foods. Eating well will help make sure your baby starts out with a good supply of nutrients.
- Stop risky habits, such as smoking and drinking. Smokers increase their risk of serious pregnancy complications, including stillbirth. And when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it is quickly absorbed in her baby's blood. As a result, her baby may suffer health problems. If you're a smoker, ask your doctor for help quitting. Do the same if you drink alcohol or use other drugs and think it may be hard to stop. Your doctor is available to help you—not judge you.
Some of these changes may take real effort. But consider your reward: the knowledge that you gave your baby a head start on a healthy life.