Your checklist for planning a healthy pregnancy
By Taylor Dahl
Are you and your partner thinking about trying for a baby? Sure, you know what to expect when you’re expecting, but do you know what to do before you even get pregnant? The truth is, you should start treating your body like it’s pregnant at least three months before conceiving. Here’s what you need to do to get healthy before you begin to stock up on pregnancy tests.
During a preconception checkup your OB/GYN ensures your body is ready for pregnancy. Your doc will probably give you a physical exam, pelvic exam, Pap test and blood tests, and screen for STDs, diabetes and obesity. If any of your screenings come up positive, your doctor will help you get everything under control before you get pregnant. You should also use this appointment to ask any questions you may have, as well as discuss your family history.
Now’s the time to make sure you’re up-to-date on all vaccines. Some vaccine-preventable infections, like rubella and chickenpox, can cause birth defects and other problems in your baby if they are contracted during pregnancy. If it’s flu season, you should get the influenza vaccine whether or not you're expecting, and women who are pregnant should get the Tdap vaccine between weeks 27 and 36 of each pregnancy. If you’re not sure which shots you’ve had, your doc may be able to perform a blood test to find out if you’re immune to certain vaccine-preventable diseases. If you do end up getting a shot, ask your doctor when it’s safe to conceive, because you may have to wait after certain vaccines.
There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to how long you should wait to get pregnant after giving up birth control. If you’re using an intrauterine device (IUD) or barrier methods such as diaphragms, you can start trying as soon as you stop using them. While you may start ovulating as soon as two weeks after going off the pill, it could take a couple of months for your menstrual cycle to get back to normal. Knowing your new cycle will make it easier to figure out when you’re most fertile (a.k.a. ovulating). Depo-Provera will make you wait the longest before getting pregnant—it can take up to 10 months for ovulation to return to normal.
You know that each puff of a cigarette puts you at risk for heart disease, lung disease and some cancers, but did you know that it also affects your fertility? According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the chemicals in cigarette smoke actually speed up the rate at which a woman loses eggs. Guys, you’re not in the clear, either. Not only does cigarette smoke harm sperm quality, it also reduces sperm counts and decreases its ability to fertilize eggs.
If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you should lay off the booze. Studies show that alcohol decreases fertility in both women and men; however, the exact amount of alcohol it takes to affect a woman’s ability to conceive is unclear. While some studies link only heavy alcohol consumption (more than two drinks a day) with reduced fertility in women, others suggest that anything between one drink per week to five drinks per day may make it harder to get pregnant. Bottom line: If you’re trying to get pregnant, stop drinking alcohol.
Think you need to say goodbye to your Starbucks routine once you start trying? Not necessarily. Drinking too much caffeine now could actually make it harder for you to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy, but as with alcohol, it’s not clear how much caffeine is “too much.” Some studies have linked several cups of coffee a day to an increased risk of miscarriage, while others have suggested that even one cuppa Joe can make it harder to get pregnant. Confused? As a rule of thumb, many experts say that one or two cups of coffee per day is ok.
Women who are underweight, overweight or obese may have problems with ovulation, which makes it harder to conceive. In fact, ASRM found that 12% of infertility is caused by women being overweight or underweight. However, most women who overcome their weight problems can get pregnant. Your doctor will discuss proper weight-loss or weight-gain strategies to get your body ready for a baby during your pre-conception checkup.
Guys need to watch the scale, too. Men who are overweight or obese may also experience problems with infertility such as low sperm counts and sperm motility.
We know that too much stress can cause sleep problems, headaches, depression and even heart disease, but could it trigger infertility? Maybe. Stress can cause hormone levels to change, which, in some cases, could actually delay or stop the release of an egg.
Taking control of stress now will help you get pregnant and stay healthy while you’re expecting. Catching up on your ZZZs, eating healthy foods, exercising, journaling and meditating are all ways you can reduce stress. Get more tips from our Stress Topic Center.
Unlike your weight, smoking and drinking habits, age isn’t something you can change. If your biological clock is ticking, but you aren’t quite ready for a baby, you do have the option to either freeze your eggs or use IVF followed by freezing of the embryos. Older women struggling with fertility may also consider using eggs or embryos donated by a younger woman.
Your home, workplace and what’s on your plate can all expose you to toxins. While some exposure is outside of your control, you can reduce or avoid certain toxins by wearing protective clothing when handling chemicals. You should also make smart diet decisions. Choose organic foods to limit your pesticide exposure (find out which foods to buy organic here), eat fewer processed foods and try to avoid deep-sea fish, such as swordfish, to limit mercury poisoning.
All women should take 400 mcg of folic acid every day, and experts recommend that women who are thinking about having a baby start taking it at least one month before getting pregnant. Not only does it keep your skin, hair and nails healthy, but it also prevents major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine, should you get pregnant.
You can get folic acid in vitamin form or through the foods you eat – a bowl of cereal could contain a daily serving, just make sure the nutrition label says “100% folic acid.”
Once you become pregnant, it is important to follow your doctors recommendations for prenatal care, which can help to make sure that you and your baby stay in the best health possible. In your last trimester, it will be important ...to understand what happens during labor and delivery, and to know your pain control options. Learn more about pregnancy and childbirth from our experts. More