One of the most crucial times in a baby’s development occurs in the earliest stages of pregnancy – in the first few weeks, which is usually before you even know that you are pregnant. Therefore, what you do before pregnancy can help you and your future baby. If you are planning on becoming pregnant, there are a number of things you can do beforehand to better prepare yourself for pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy starts with a healthy you. These tips from the March of Dimes may better your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy:
1. Take folic acid. Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before pregnancy and during early pregnancy when the baby’s brain and spinal cord are developing. Look on the label of the vitamin bottle to see if it contains the necessary amount of folic acid. Eat a healthy diet that includes foods that contain folate, the natural form of the vitamin. Such foods include fortified breakfast cereals, beans, leafy green vegetables and orange juice.
2. Get a pre-pregnancy checkup. Your health care provider can help you stay as healthy as possible. She or he 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. Go to the dentist before you get pregnant to be sure your teeth and gums are healthy.
3. 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. To decide whether patients weigh too much or too little, health care providers use a formula called body mass index, or BMI. The formula is based on height and weight. To calculate your BMI, visit the Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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 and use My Woman’s to find out about or schedule activities that are both safe and beneficial.
4. Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Smoking may make it harder for you to get pregnant and can cause pregnancy complications. 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 you’re pregnant and when you’re pregnant. To get help for quitting, see the March of Dimes fact sheet "Smoking During Pregnancy."
5. Stop drinking alcohol. Drinking any kind of alcohol (liquor, wine, beer, wine coolers, etc.) puts your baby at risk for miscarriage and serious physical and mental problems. If you need help to stop drinking, ask your health care provider.
6. Don’t use illegal drugs. Taking street drugs can put your baby at risk for miscarriage, preterm delivery and serious physical and mental problems. Stop using any illegal drugs before you try to get pregnant and stay clean throughout your pregnancy. If you need help to stop, ask your health care provider. But don’t stop taking any prescription medications without first talking with you provider.
7. 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. Stay away from rodents, including pet mice, hamsters and guinea pigs. Avoid handling cat litter or soil; they can contain a parasite that causes an infection called toxoplasmosis. This infection can harm your baby. Stay away from children with colds or common childhood illnesses. Discard contaminated tissues and wash your hands afterwards. Don’t share drinking glasses. Avoid sexually transmitted infections. Have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners and/or use a condom when having sex. If your partner has sores in his genital area, don’t have sex at this time. Ask your health care provider for advice.
8. 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.
9. 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. For more information, see the Genetic Counseling section of this Web site.
10. 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.
Finally, don’t forget to help the Dad-to-Be 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.
© 2006 March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. All rights reserved. The March of Dimes is a not-for-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3). Our mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.
For more information on pregnancy preparation, contact us at (314) 996-LIFE (5433) or toll-free (800) 392-0936, or email us.