According to the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, couples need to make sure that they are healthy before deciding to have a baby. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women schedule a pre-pregnancy examination with their physician. Taking the steps necessary to reduce the risk of complications can help to prepare you for a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
While every woman should see a doctor before getting pregnant, scheduling a pre-pregnancy visit becomes even more important if you have a medical condition that could make your pregnancy more difficult. High blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, lupus, and heart and kidney disease are conditions that put your baby at risk for having birth defects. If you are older than age 35, this also increases the risk. During the visit, your health care provider will take a complete medical history for both you and your spouse. He or she will ask about your family health histories to determine whether testing for any genetic disorders might be required. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have had a child born prematurely, or if you have a history of miscarriage or stillbirths. In addition to a physical exam, your doctor may conduct a pelvic exam and Pap test along with taking blood and urine samples.
Diet and Nutrition
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) advises women to add more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets before getting pregnant. Nutritionists say that a woman should increase consumption of folic acid, found in food sources like oranges, leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals, before and during early pregnancy. Folic acid, one of the B vitamins, helps prevent birth defects in the brain and spinal cord. Women also need to eat whole grains and avoid foods high in refined sugar. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all good sources of fiber. Fat, which helps the body absorb vitamins, should come from fish and vegetable sources. A developing fetus also needs adequate protein from meat, dairy products and beans.
Your doctor may recommend that you make certain lifestyle changes before trying to have a baby. If you smoke, quit before you try to become pregnant. Aside from all the other health risks, the American Cancer Society points out that smoking presents special risks to women and their babies. Women who smoke have a higher risk of miscarriage or delivering a baby with low birth weight. Infants who are born underweight are more likely to have medical problems, experience learning disabilities or even die in their first year of life. Breathing in secondhand smoke can be detrimental to the development of the fetus as well. Women who smoke may find it more difficult to get pregnant. If you are over age 35, smoke, and use birth control pills, you also have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
If you drink while pregnant, you put your baby at risk for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). This can cause your baby to have serious physical disabilities and developmental problems. The safe thing to do is stop drinking before you try to get pregnant, and do not drink at any time during pregnancy. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that there has been an increase in the number of infants in the U.S. born with FAS. While the effects of alcohol pose the greatest danger to a developing fetus early on in pregnancy, studies indicate that even women who only drink in the later stages of pregnancy have more premature babies than women who do not drink at all throughout the pregnancy.
Make sure your physician knows about any prescription medications or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs you are taking. While certain medications can harm the fetus during pregnancy, do not suddenly stop any prescribed drugs without first talking to your health care provider. Your doctor may simply need to adjust the dosage required to treat any medical conditions you might have. Since medications you take during pregnancy can be passed on to your baby, be careful about what OTC drugs you take as well. The March of Dimes Birth Foundation warns that just because you can get a medication without a prescription does not mean that it is safe to take during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Partner’s Lifestyle Habits
According to the American Fertility Association, the male partner is a contributing factor in 30 to 40 percent of cases in which couples experience infertility. Certain lifestyle habits can contribute to low sperm count, making it difficult to get pregnant. Fertility experts say that smoking, excessive use of alcohol, using steroids or illegal drugs, poor nutrition, some prescription medications and poor nutrition are all possible reasons for low sperm count. Not only do these things affect fertility, they can also cause an unborn infant to have serious health problems.
The best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy is to plan ahead. The ACOG advises that women do not always tell their doctors that they are trying to get pregnant, so doctors should always ask the question at routine visits. Physicians recommend that a woman should start preparing her body for pregnancy at least three months before she tries to get pregnant. Since some women do not know that they are pregnant for several weeks, by following certain precautions before you get pregnant you are helping to ensure that your baby gets off to a healthy start when you do get pregnant. The CDC recommends that women of childbearing age maintain a healthy weight, take folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects, quit smoking and stop drinking alcohol before trying to get pregnant.