Preparing for your pregnancy

A woman who is thinking about pregnancy can reduce her stress and boost her potential for good health by visiting her doctor both before and during pregnancy. This can be a time of many questions, and primary care doctors can offer valuable guidance. Although some pregnancies are unplanned, often women want to know how to prepare to have a happy and healthy baby before they get pregnant.

If you are considering pregnancy, consider meeting with your primary health care provider to get a healthy start. This will give you and your doctor time to consider particular medical conditions or other circumstances that could affect your pregnancy. It’s best to discuss these prior to conception, if possible. Fortunately, most young women are healthy and should expect a healthy pregnancy—but even if that description fits you, you can take extra steps to help ensure that things go well.

Some health conditions might affect you more during a pregnancy or have a negative effect on a baby. These conditions include chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes or depression. Your health care provider will help you design a plan for treating any chronic conditions, both before and during pregnancy. Also, be sure to plan ahead so that you are ready to share with your provider any family history of genetic disorders (like sickle cell anemia or cystic fibrosis).

Another topic to discuss with your doctor is the medications that you take—even vitamins or over-the-counter medications. Some of these are not safe during pregnancy and should be stopped before conception. Sometimes, an appropriate substitute can be found. On the other hand, many medications are safe and should be continued during pregnancy. Your provider can help you make these choices.

Many recommended immunizations are administered during childhood. If you are lucky enough to have you childhood vaccine records, bring them with you. If your record is unclear, your doctor may recommend that you take a blood test to see if you are already protected against diseases like chickenpox or rubella. Both of these can be problematic if contracted during pregnancy. If needed, your doctor can then administer a vaccine to ensure protection.

Women who have substance abuse issues are encouraged to talk with their primary care providers before becoming pregnant. Remember that this can include both illegal drugs and legal substances such as nicotine and alcohol. While many illegal drugs are harmful to a fetus, legal substances can be even more problematic for a pregnant woman and her baby. Even excessive amounts of caffeine can make a woman more likely to experience a miscarriage. By sharing any concerns you have with your provider, he or she can point you to helpful resources so that you can try to quit before pregnancy.

Pursuing a healthy diet and exercise are important, even before you get pregnant. Ideally, a mother-to-be is close to her optimal body weight when conceiving. Being either significantly underweight or overweight can affect a developing baby. Ask your provider about getting good nutrition, including the right vitamins and minerals. This is pretty easy to do if a few simple guidelines are followed: eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and choose low-fat dairy products and lean protein. During the very early days of a pregnancy, you also should take in an adequate amount of folic acid, a common vitamin found in many foods. Folic acid has been proven to greatly decrease the number of infants affected by neural tube defects; these are spinal cord problems that can affect the ability of a child to walk. Ask your doctor which vitamins contain the recommended amount of folic acid and would work well for you.

Finally, make sure to think about exercise. If you have been mostly sedentary, consider starting a daily walking program—25 minutes of brisk walking is a good goal. Other fine options are a yoga class or to go swimming with friends or family. If you are already athletic, you may have questions about whether you should continue to exercise at a brisk level. Most women will report that they feel more energetic and less achy during and after pregnancy if they maintain some level of fitness and flexibility.

The reproductive years can be an exciting time in the life of many women. By gaining some basic information and perhaps adopting some healthy habits, most women can expect to have a happy, healthy baby.