Preparing for a Healthy Pregnancy

Topic Overview

If you are planning to become pregnant soon, there are several things you can do to ensure your own and your baby's optimal health.

Evaluate your birth control method

If you use an intrauterine device (IUD), arrange to have it removed. If you have been taking the Pill (oral contraception) or using monthly hormone injections (such as Depo-Provera or Lunelle), try to wait until you've had your first full menstrual period before trying to conceive. This may take up to one year. When you do start your period, write down the date of the first day of your menstrual flow. Using the date of your last menstrual period (LMP) before a pregnancy is the easiest way to calculate your fetus's age since conception. In turn, fetal age is important to know when making a number of testing, treatment, and delivery decisions.

If you do happen to get pregnant shortly after stopping the pill, don't worry. Various studies have found that oral contraception use just before a pregnancy doesn't increase the risks of miscarriage or fetal problems. In fact, women who have used oral contraception have a slightly lower rate of miscarriage than women who have not used oral contraception.1

Although 50% of women will become pregnant in the first 3 months after stopping the pill, it may take some women as long as a year to conceive. This delay is most likely to affect women who are age 30 or older, or have never given birth, especially if their menstrual periods were not regular before they started taking the pill. However, using hormones for birth control does not make you infertile.1

Avoid unnecessary medication use

Before trying to conceive, talk to your health professional about any medications or dietary supplements you are taking. Many seemingly safe medications are actually dangerous during pregnancy. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may increase your risk of miscarriage, especially at the time of conception or when used for more than a week.2

Improve your nutrition

Start taking a vitamin-mineral supplement. Taking a daily vitamin supplement with 0.4 mg (400 mcg) of folic acid before becoming pregnant reduces the chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect. If you have a family history of neural tube defects, have had a previous infant with a neural tube defect, or are on medications to prevent seizures, take a daily supplement containing 4 mg (4000 mcg) of folic acid. Other vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, are also necessary for your health and that of your baby.

Cut out junk food, and eat a balanced diet. Pregnancy is not the time to lose weight. If you want to lose weight, do it before becoming pregnant. Don't go on a crash diet, because you may end up with a nutritional deficiency that could be harmful to you or the baby.

Get a thorough physical checkup

If any problems or needs are found, deal with them early. Make sure you are fully immunized to prevent potential fetal harm. For example, if you have never had German measles (rubella) or the rubella vaccination or are unsure, tell your health professional. If a blood test shows that you have no immunity, you can be vaccinated. You should then wait at least 3 months after being vaccinated before you try to get pregnant.

As a part of your physical checkup, you may want to ask for a prepregnancy exam. Such an exam can help determine any risks to you or your potential children from pregnancy. This knowledge may help you decide whether you wish to see a family medicine doctor or midwife for your care during pregnancy or whether you require the care of a specialist. It may also help you decide what tests you want to have done during pregnancy.

See your dentist

Have any necessary fillings or other dental work done before you become pregnant. If you have periodontal (gum) disease, have it treated before becoming pregnant. Periodontal disease during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk for developing preeclampsia.3

Consider genetic testing

You and your spouse or partner may want to be screened for potential genetic problems, such as sickle cell disease if you are of African descent or Tay-Sachs disease if you are of Jewish-European or French-Canadian descent.

Keep track of your menstrual periods

You may want to use fertility awareness to increase your chances of becoming pregnant. For more information, see the topic Fertility Awareness.

Keep track of your menstrual cycle and when you have sexual intercourse. This information will help in figuring out your due date and your fetus's gestational age after you become pregnant.

Make lifestyle changes

Cut down on caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea, and cola drinks.

Stop drinking alcoholic beverages and stop smoking. Alcohol and tobacco use can severely harm a developing fetus.

Stop any use of illegal drugs, such as cocaine or marijuana. Cocaine may cause serious problems in pregnancy, including placenta abruptio, fetal distress, and preterm labor.

Exercise is good for healthy pregnant women. Try to get 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day for most, if not all, days of the week.4

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Speroff L, Fritz MA (2005). Oral contraception. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 7th ed., pp. 861–942. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  2. Li D, et al. (2003). Exposure to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs during pregnancy and risk of miscarriage: Population-based cohort study. BMJ, 327(7411): 368–372.
  3. Boggess KA, et al. (2003). Maternal periodontal disease is associated with an increased risk for preeclampsia. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 101(2): 227–231.
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2002, reaffirmed 2007). Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 267. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 99(1): 171–173.

Credits

Author Sandy Jocoy, RN
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Anne Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Updated November 28, 2008

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