Preparing for pregnancy

Before you decide to get pregnant take the opportunity to visit your ob-gyn or family practice doctor for a preconception checkup. Your practitioner will review your personal and family medical history, your present health, and any medications you’re taking. Certain medications are dangerous during pregnancy, and some have to be switched before you even try to conceive.

Why preconception health is important?

Preconception health is a woman’s health before she becomes pregnant. It means knowing how health conditions and risk factors could affect a woman or her unborn baby if she becomes pregnant. For example, some foods, habits, and medicines can harm your baby — even before he or she is conceived. Some health problems, such as diabetes, also can affect pregnancy.

Every woman should be thinking about her health whether or not she is planning pregnancy. One reason is that about half of all pregnancies are not planned. Unplanned pregnancies are at greater risk of preterm birth and low birth weight babies.

By taking action on health issues and risks before pregnancy, you can prevent problems that might affect you or your baby later.

courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Body weight
It’s best to be at a healthy weight when you become pregnant. Being overweight or underweight puts you at increased risk for problems during pregnancy. Women who are underweight are at risk of pre-term delivery, whereas women who are overweight or obese may be at risk of pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage, fetal abnormalities, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. Women with obesity also risk complications during labour and birth and are more likely to have caesarean section. Weight can also impact on your ability to conceive at all.

 

The importance of folate

Folate is a B vitamin that is found in some foods. Folic acid is a synthetic version of the vitamin that we take as a supplement, usually as a tablet or a powder.

Taking a folic acid supplement is crucial. By taking 400 mcg of folic acid a day for at least one month before you conceive and during your first trimester, you can cut your chances of having a baby with neural-tube defects such as spina bifida by 50 to 70 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Taking folic acid helps prevent some other birth defects as well.

 

Give up drinking, smoking, and drugs

If you smoke or take drugs, now’s the time to stop. Numerous studies have shown that smoking or taking drugs can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, and low-birthweight babies. Keep in mind that some drugs can stay in your system even after their noticeable effects have worn off.

Research suggests that tobacco use can affect your fertility and lower your partner’s sperm count. In fact, studies have shown that even second hand smoke may affect your chances of getting pregnant.

Alcohol can also get in the way of getting pregnant, so it’s a good idea to cut back when you start trying.

 

Cut down the amount of caffeine.

While there’s no consensus on exactly how much caffeine is safe during pregnancy, experts agree that pregnant women and those trying to conceive should avoid consuming large amounts.

Some studies have found an association between high caffeine consumption and decreased fertility. And too much caffeine has also been linked to a risk of miscarriage in some (but not all) studies.

 

Pre-pregnancy health checks

Pap smear

Women are advised to have a Pap test every two years, unless your doctor advises more frequent tests. You may prefer to have this done before you are pregnant but it is safe to have a test in early pregnancy.

Breast checks

It is recommended that all women examine their breasts for lumps monthly. An annual breast examination with a medical practitioner is also a good idea.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Ideally STIs should be treated before pregnancy. If you have any concerns about STIs you should discuss them with your doctor.

See your dentist

When you’re preparing for pregnancy, don’t forget about your oral health. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum disease. Increased progesterone and estrogen levels can cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria in plaque, resulting in swollen, red, tender gums that bleed when you floss or brush.

The good news is that women who take care of their periodontal health before they get pregnant cut down on their chances of experiencing gum complications in pregnancy. See your dentist for a checkup and a cleaning now if you haven’t done so in the last six months.

 Medical conditions

Any existing medical conditions that you have should be discussed with your doctor before pregnancy. Some conditions that may affect pregnancy are high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, anaemia, kidney problems, heart or liver disease. You may wish to consider physiotherapy, seeing a chiropractor or osteopathy if you have a back injury or condition that may affect your pregnancy or the birth of the baby.

Some gynaecological conditions may affect conception or cause concern during pregnancy. If you have fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome, pelvic inflammatory disease, or endometriosis let your doctor know. You doctor will also need to know if you have had cervical or uterine surgery or more than three previous miscarriages.

 Medicines

Medicines may have been prescribed by your doctor or natural therapist or you have purchased them over the counter from a chemist, a health food shop or a supermarket. It is important to check all medicines that you are taking, before you get pregnant, to make sure they will not harm your pregnancy. If you are not sure, talk with the pharmacist or your GP. It is very important to clear about the possible impacts of all medicines “natural” or otherwise before you are pregnant.

Mental health

Women with a diagnosed mental illness will need to talk to their medical team or psychiatrist about how to manage their illness during pregnancy, the birth and afterwards. If you are currently taking medication, this may need to be managed slightly differently during pregnancy.

 

Ask your doctor also about:

  • How to avoid illness.
  • Hazards in your workplace or home that could harm you or your baby.
  • Health problems that run in your or your partner’s family.
  • Problems you have had with prior pregnancies, including preterm birth.

 

Your partner’s role in preparing for pregnancy

Make the decision about pregnancy together. When both partners intend for pregnancy, a woman is more likely to get early prenatal care and avoid risky behaviors such as smoking and drinking alcohol.

Screening for and treating sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can help make sure infections are not passed to female partners.

Male partners can improve their own reproductive health and overall health by limiting alcohol, quitting smoking or illegal drug use, making healthy food choices, and reducing stress. Studies show that men who drink a lot, smoke, or use drugs can have problems with their sperm. These might cause you to have problems getting pregnant. If your partner won’t quit smoking, ask that he not smoke around you, to avoid harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

Your partner should also talk to his doctor about his own health, his family health history, and any medicines he uses.

People who work with chemicals or other toxins can be careful not to expose women to them. For example, people who work with fertilizers or pesticides should change out of dirty clothes before coming near women. They should handle and wash soiled clothes separately.

 

Reference :

Preparing for healthy pregnancy: The Women’s

Seventeen things you should do before you try to get pregnant : Baby Center

Preconception health : Womenshealth.gov

 

Malay version here