PREPARING FOR PREGNANCY
Working in a fertility office often means my patients have done their homework before their first visit to see me. However, since many women become pregnant when they aren’t expecting to, here are some points to consider to optimize your medical health before pregnancy – even if you’re only still thinking about becoming pregnant.
LOAD UP ON VITAMINS
All women (even those not trying to conceive) should take a daily multivitamin or prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid. Folic acid is important because it promotes proper development in the baby; a deficiency in this vitamin can increase the risk for spina bifida and similar problems. The recommended daily dose is 400 micrograms, which is generally found in all multivitamins and prenatal vitamins. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a prescription for prenatal vitamins; they can be purchased at all pharmacies.
FOLLOW A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
Try to eat a balanced diet that contains proteins, fruits, vegetables and grains. A handy tool developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is called “Choose My Plate”. It takes into account your age, gender and level of exercise, and helps you to plan more balanced meals. If you are overweight, it is helpful if you lose weight before pregnancy.
A healthy lifestyle also means no tobacco smoking or other substance use. Smoking cigarettes decreases your chances of becoming pregnant, and if you do become pregnant, continuing to smoke increases your risk for miscarriage. Excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption also increase the risk for losing a pregnancy. And smoking and substance use aren’t just bad for women … they can decrease a man’s sperm count as well!
OPTIMIZE YOUR MEDICAL HEALTH
For example, if you have a medical condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or seizure disorder (to name a few), talk to your doctor before attempting pregnancy. It is best if your medical conditions are being properly treated and addressed before you become pregnant.
In addition, some prescription medications can be harmful to the developing baby; your doctor may advise you to switch to a medication with a better safety profile in pregnancy. A visit with your doctor is also a good time to make sure you are up to date with your vaccinations (for example, the chicken pox vaccine), as pregnant women can be more susceptible to certain infections.
CONSIDER PRECONCEPTION COUNSELING
A visit to your OB/GYN for preconception counseling can be quite helpful. He or she can discuss the above recommendations in more detail. The doctor can also ask about any inheritable diseases or traits that might run in your family and offer testing to see if your children would be at risk. There are also certain “silent” diseases that are more common in certain ethnic backgrounds; your doctor can offer you testing for these as well, if indicated.
Pregnancy is both a challenge and a gift. If you start off on the right foot, then you are ahead of the game and another step closer to a healthy and happy pregnancy!