- 1. Schedule a preconception visit
- 2. Consider genetic carrier screening
- 3. Take folic acid (and watch out for vitamin A)
- 4. Give up binge drinking, smoking, and drugs – and get help if you need it
- 5. Stock your fridge with healthy foods
- 6. Check your caffeine intake
- 7. Aim for a healthy weight
- 8. Pay attention to the fish you eat
- 9. Create and follow an exercise program
- 10. See your dentist
- 11. Consider money matters
- 12. Consider your mental health
- 13. Avoid infections
- 14. Reduce environmental risks
- 15. Think your decision through
- 16. Figure out when you ovulate
- 17. Toss your birth control
You’ve decided to take the plunge into parenthood. But wait just a second – or even a month or more. To give yourself the best chance for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, there are some important things you need to do before you head down the road to conception.
1. Schedule a preconception visit
You don’t have to have a doctor or midwife lined up to deliver your baby yet, but call your ob-gyn, midwife, or family practice doctor now for a preconception checkup. Your practitioner will review your personal and family medical history, your present health, and any medications or supplements you’re taking. Certain medications and supplements are unsafe during pregnancy, and some may need to be switched before you even try to conceive beca
Your practitioner will likely discuss diet, weight, exercise, and any unhealthy habits you may have (such as smoking, drinking, and taking drugs); recommend a multivitamin; make sure you’re up to date on your immunizations; test you for immunity to childhood diseases such as chicken pox and rubella; and answer any questions you have. In addition, you may be referred to a specialist if you have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure, that need to be controlled before you get pregnant. If it’s been at least a year since you had a checkup, you can also expect to have a pelvic exam and a Pap smear, and to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases if you’re at risk.
2. Consider genetic carrier screening
Your practitioner should offer you genetic carrier screening before you start trying to conceive to see whether you or your partner is a carrier for serious inherited illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and others. If both you and your partner are carriers, your child will have a 1 in 4 chance of having the disease. You can meet with a genetic counselor who will be able to tell you more about the condition and help you sort out your reproductive choices. This may be the single most important thing you can do to help ensure a healthy baby, and all it require
3. Take folic acid (and watch out for vitamin A)
Taking a folic acid supplement is crucial. By taking 400 micrograms (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 and Prevention (CDC). Taking folic acid helps prevent some other birth defects as well. You can buy folic acid supplements at the drugstore, or you can take a prenatal or regular multivitamin. Check the label on multivitamins to make sure they contain the 400 mcg of folic acid you need. Also check to make sure that your multivitamin doesn’t contain more than the recommended daily allowance of 770 mcg RAE (2,565 IU) of vitamin A, unless most of it’s in a form called beta-carotene. Getting too much of a different kind of vitamin A can cause birth defects. If you’re unsure about what to take, ask your healthcare provider to recommend a supplement.
4. Give up binge drinking, smoking, and drugs – and get help if you need it
If you smoke or take drugs, now’s the time to stop. Many studies have shown that smoking or taking drugs can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, and low-birth-weight babies. Keep in mind that some drugs can stay in your system even after their noticeable effects have worn off. What’s more, research suggests that tobacco use can affect your fertility and lower your partner’s sperm count. In fact, studies have shown that even secondhand smoke may reduce your ability to get pregnant. Moderate drinking (that’s one drink a day for women) is considered fine while you’re trying to conceive, but you’ll want to avoid excessive or binge drinking at this time. And once you’re pregnant, experts recommend that you stop drinking altogether since no one knows exactly what potential harmful effects even the smallest amount of alcohol has on a developing baby. Stopping unhealthy habits can be very difficult. Don’t hesitate to talk with your healthcare provider. She can talk with you about tools to help you quit smoking or refer you to a program to help you stop taking drugs, for example. Your local health department may also be able to help by putting you in touch with counselors, group programs, and other assistance.
5. Stock your fridge with healthy foods
You’re not eating for two yet, but you should start making nutritious food choices now so your body will be stocked up with the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. Try to get at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day, as well as plenty of whole grains and foods that are high in calcium – like milk, calcium-fortified orange juice, and yogurt. Eat a variety of protein sources, such as beans, nuts, seeds, soy products, poultry, and meats.
6. Check your caffeine intake
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. Too much caffeine has been linked to a risk of miscarriage in some (but not all) studies. The March of Dimes advises pregnant women to limit their caffeine consumption to 200 milligrams per day, about the amount in one cup of coffee, depending on the brew. That would be a good goal to aim for as you start trying to conceive.
7. Aim for a healthy weight
You may have an easier time conceiving if you’re at a healthy weight. Having a low or high body mass index (BMI) makes it harder for some women to become pregnant. Getting to a healthier weight now can also help you get your pregnancy off on the right foot. Women with a high BMI are more likely to have pregnancy or delivery complications, while women who start with a low BMI and fail to gain enough weight are more likely to deliver underweight babies. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to achieve your weight goals.
8. Pay attention to the fish you eat
If you’re a big fan of fish, start watching your intake. While fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids (which are very important for your baby’s brain and eye development), protein, vitamin D, and other nutrients, it also contains mercury, which can be harmful. Most experts agree that pregnant women should eat some fish, and that the best approach is to avoid those fish that are highest in mercury and limit your consumption of all fish. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that women of childbearing age not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, and eat no more than 6 ounces (one serving) of solid white canned tuna per week. Other experts suggest a longer list of fish to avoid. It’s also a good idea to avoid eati
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