Women's Health Apr 8, 2019

Thinking About Having a Baby?

Health changes to consider before becoming pregnant

Reviewed by: Lauren Thaxton, MD, MBA, MSBS
Written by: Lauryn Gerard

A pregnant woman holds a pair of baby shoes in front of her belly.

So you’ve been hit with “baby fever,” and you’ve decided to take the plunge into parenthood. You may want to wait just a second, or a month, or even a few months actually. Your health before pregnancy can have a significant impact on the health of your child just as it would during pregnancy. So, before you get going, you’ll want to make sure your health is in tip-top shape so that you’re ready to pass down the best you have to offer to your baby. Below are some health changes recommended by experts in Women’s Health, a clinical partnership between UT Health Austin and Ascension Seton, you may want to consider making before you start trying to conceive.

Schedule a Preconception 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 becoming pregnant.

Consider Genetic Testing

If your family history or ethnicity puts you at a higher risk for giving birth to a baby with a genetic disorder, you may want to see a genetic counselor before getting pregnant. Testing can help evaluate your risk for cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, Fragile X syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, and sickle cell disease as well as your risk for having a baby that inherits these disorders. Knowing what your risks are before trying to conceive may help inform your decisions moving 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 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, pills, patches, rings, IUDs, etc., you will want to stop your birth control if you are trying to conceive. If you are using an IUD or implant, this will require scheduling an appointment with healthcare provider if you want it removed. You will likely have a rapid return to fertility, which will also allow you to 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 identify at which point during your cycle you are most likely to get pregnant.

Begin Taking Prenatal Vitamins

Your baby’s neural tube, which becomes their brain and spinal cord, develops within the first month of pregnancy, usually before you 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 becoming 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 come into play. Prenatal vitamins are available over the counter in nearly any pharmacy.

Choose a prenatal multivitamin that contains:

  • Folic acid
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Vitamin D

Focus on Healthy Eating Habits

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 becoming pregnant will not only help your body stock up with nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy, but it will also help you continue your healthy eating habits throughout your pregnancy. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be hard or overwhelming. A good motto to stick by is, “keep it colorful” by including fruits, veggies, complex carbs, and a variety of proteins.

Avoid Smoking, Drugs, and 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, and low-birth-weight in babies as well as 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

Caffeine is a stimulant that increases your heart rate and blood pressure, both of which can negatively affect your pregnancy. It is also a diuretic, meaning it increases the frequency of urination, which can lead to a reduction in bodily fluid levels and possibly cause dehydration. Cutting back on caffeine before you become pregnant can help reduce symptoms of withdrawal when you do become pregnant. Consuming a small amount of java (8 ounces) is a safe before and during pregnancy, but be aware that caffeine is found in more than just coffee (i.e., 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.

Become Active and Lose Excess Weight

Weight loss can help women who may be overweight conceive more easily as well as lower the risk for complications during pregnancy and delivery. Maintaining an exercise regimen before and during your pregnancy can help 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 Are 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 may need to see your dentist more often than you do already. If you are not a regular flosser, now is definitely the time to make it a habit (for life).

Assess Your Mental Health

Depression and stress can affect fertility, hormone activity, and ovulation. If you are struggling to become pregnant, speak with your doctor about any symptoms of depression you may be experiencing, such as a loss of interest in things you enjoy, a change in appetite or sleep patterns, a loss of energy, or feelings of hopelessness. 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 conceive, it’s best to avoid any situations where you might 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 try to have someone else change the litter box to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis, which could become dangerous for a developing baby. Also, make sure you get a flu shot to avoid getting the flu, which 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.

For more information about Women’s Health or to schedule an appointment, visit here.

About the Partnership Between UT Health Austin and Ascension Seton

The collaboration between UT Health Austin and Ascension brings together medical professionals, medical school learners, and researchers who are all part of the integrated mission of transforming healthcare delivery and redesigning the academic health environment to better serve society. This collaboration allows highly specialized providers who are at the forefront of the latest research, diagnostic, and technological developments to build an integrated system of care that is a collaborative resource for clinicians and their patients.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.