Reviewed by: Lauren Thaxton, MD, MBA, MSBS
Written by: Lauryn Gerard
So you’ve been hit with baby-fever and you’ve decided to take the plunge into parenthood. But wait just a second – or a month, or a few months actually. Your health before pregnancy can have an impact on the health of your child just as it would during pregnancy. So, before you get going, you’ll want to make sure you’re health is in tip-top shape ready to pass down the best you have to offer to your baby. Below are some health changes recommended by experts in the UT Health Austin Women’s Health Institute you may want to consider making before you start trying to get pregnant.
Start with a preconception doctor’s appointment
Before you go all in, your chosen health care provider needs to know your baby-making plans too! We recommend scheduling an appointment 4-6 months prior to trying to conceive. This will give you and your doctor an opportunity to discuss family planning and lifestyle changes you may need to make so that conception and pregnancy go as seamlessly as possible. Your provider will recommend that you start taking prenatal vitamins, which you can get over the counter. They will also review medications you can or cannot take during pregnancy and how to manage any health conditions you may have. It is also important that you are up-to-date on all tests or vaccines you may need prior to getting pregnant.
Consider genetic testing
If your family history or ethnicity puts you at high risk of having a baby with a genetic disorder, you may want to see a genetic counselor before getting pregnant. Testing can evaluate your risk for cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, Fragile X syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell disease or risk of having a baby that inherits these disorders. Knowing what your risks are before trying to get pregnant may help you decide how to move forward. If your test comes back positive for at risk conditions, your genetic counselor can help you assess your reproductive choices. Genetic testing can help to ensure the health of you and your future baby with just a sample of saliva or blood from you and your partner.
Bid farewell to your birth control
This might seem obvious, but if you are using anything to prevent pregnancy such as condoms/pill/patch/ring/IUD etc., you will want to stop your birth control in order to become pregnant. If you are using an IUD or implant, this will mean seeing your healthcare provider to have it removed. You will likely have a rapid return to fertility, which will also allow you figure out when you are ovulating – aka when you’re most fertile. There are free ovulation tracking calendars you can use online (such as this one here) and fertility kits you can purchase at your local pharmacy to help you know at what point during your cycle you are most likely to get pregnant.
Prenatal vitamins are your new best friend
Your baby’s neural tube, which becomes their brain and spinal cord, develops within the first month of pregnancy, usually before you may even know you are pregnant. Prenatal vitamins are essential in helping to reduce brain and spine birth defects, so it’s a great idea to incorporate them into your diet prior to getting pregnant. While a healthy diet is the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need, you may fall short on key nutrients your future baby will need for growth and development, which is where these supplements can help fill any gaps. Prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter in nearly any pharmacy, and you’ll want to look for a multi-vitamin that contains the following:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
Focus on eating right
If there were ever a time to ditch the greasy, unhealthy foods and opt for more fruits and veggies, it’s before you have a baby! Making healthy changes to your diet prior to getting pregnant will not only help your body stock up with nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy, but it will also help you to continue your healthy eating habits throughout your pregnancy. Eating right doesn’t have to be hard or overwhelming. A good motto to stick by is, “keep it colorful”. Include fruits, veggies, complex carbs and a variety of proteins.
Stop smoking, using drugs and drinking alcohol
If you smoke, drink alcohol excessively or do drugs, now is the time to stop. Many studies have shown that smoking and drug use can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, low-birth-weight in babies, and increase your risk for birth defects. Alcohol and tobacco use can also interfere with your fertility (egg quality and ability to conceive) and it can lower sperm count in men - all the more reason to get your partner on board to do it with you! Once you become pregnant, experts recommend you stop drinking altogether to reduce any potential risks to the fetus
Limit caffeine intake
Caffeine is a stimulant which increases your heart rate and blood pressure, both of which can negatively affect your pregnancy. It is also a diuretic, which increases the frequency of urination, which can lead to a reduction in bodily fluid levels and then possibly to dehydration. Cutting back on caffeine before you become pregnant can help to reduce symptoms of withdrawal when you do become pregnant. A small cup of java (8 ounces) is a safe amount before and during pregnancy, but be aware that caffeine is found in more than just coffee, like tea, soda, chocolate and some over-the-counter headache medications. Just be mindful of your caffeine intake if you are trying to become pregnant or are pregnant.
Get active and lose any excess weight
Not only can weight loss help women who may be overweight conceive easier, it also makes for a healthier pregnancy and delivery with fewer risks and complications. In addition to healthy eating, maintaining an exercise regimen before and during your pregnancy can keep your body strong and healthy for you and your baby – not to mention help your body bounce back faster after delivery! If you are looking to lose weight, consider talking with your doctor about the healthiest way to reach your goals. This might be another way to get your partner involved in helping you get pre-baby ready!
Get committed to your dentist if you’re not already
Pregnancy can increase your chances for developing gum disease or tooth decay which puts you at risk for early labor. During pregnancy, your increased hormones can affect your body’s response to plaque. This just means you’ll have to up your oral hygiene game and see your dentist to check in more often if you don’t already. If you are not a regular flosser, now is definitely the time to make it a habit (for life).
Consider your mental health
Depression and stress can sometimes have an affect fertility, hormone activity and ovulation. Before becoming pregnant, do a mental health and stress check. Talk to your doctor if you notice signs of depression such as a loss of interest and pleasure in things that you used to enjoy, a change in appetite or sleep patterns, a loss of energy, or feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Untreated mood disorders have also been associated with poor pregnancy outcomes. Taking care of yourself first puts you in a healthier place to care for your future baby.
Steer clear of infections and other harmful environmental risks
If you’re trying to get pregnant it’s best to avoid any situations where you could expose yourself to harmful bacteria or viruses that could potentially cause issues. You’ll want to avoid certain foods that could harbor dangerous bacteria such as unpasteurized soft cheeses and other dairy products, cold deli meats and raw or uncooked fish. Wash your hands frequently and wear gloves when gardening, and if you have a cat have someone else change the litter box to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis, which could be dangerous for a developing baby. Also, make sure you get a flu shot to avoid getting the flu. The flu can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia and preterm labor. You and your partner should both avoid Zika exposure for at least 3 months prior to attempting to conceive.