Before You Conceive
Taking care of your health before becoming pregnant is good for you and your baby. However, almost half (45%) of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned. Because of this, women of childbearing age (18-44) should start taking steps to improve their health and address factors that might affect future pregnancies.
Each year, about 1 in every 33 babies born in the U.S. is affected by a birth defect, a leading cause of death in the first year of life. However, women who improve their health before pregnancy can be healthier mothers and have healthier babies. Healthier women have less chance of having problems with pregnancy such as:
- Gestational diabetes,
- Preterm labor
Babies of healthier mothers have a reduced chance of:
- Preterm birth
- Low or high birth weight
What is preconception health?
A woman’s health before pregnancy is call preconception health (PCH). The main goal of PCH is to provide information and education to help you make healthy choices, screen for diseases, and provide medical care. Improving your health before becoming pregnant can better prepare you for pregnancy and help you to be as healthy as possible both during and after pregnancy. Talk to your healthcare provider about your conception goals.
Planning for Pregnancy
Get started now. Use this checklist to help you set your preconception health goals for the year. Be sure to discuss your goals with your healthcare providers before beginning any healthcare regimen.
- Get 400 mcg of folic acid every day.
Folic acid is a B vitamin found in most dark, leafy green vegetables. Having enough folic acid in your body at least 1 month before and during pregnancy can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine. Start taking a daily prenatal vitamin with sufficient folic acid as soon as you decide to begin trying to conceive.
Read more about the benefits of folic acid here.
- Stop drinking alcohol, smoking, and using street drugs.
Drinking alcohol, smoking, and using street drugs can cause many problems during pregnancy for both mother and baby, including premature birth, birth defects, and infant death.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk for many serious conditions, such as complications during pregnancy, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers (breast, endometrial, and colon).
Women who are underweight are also at risk for serious health problems. Stay active, but don’t start any new exercise routines while pregnant. The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight includes healthy eating habits and regular physical activity.
If you are underweight, overweight, or obese, talk with your doctor about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight before you get pregnant.
- Note your family’s health history and share with your doctor.
Sharing your family’s health and genetic history with your healthcare provider is important. Doing so can help your doctor make treatment decisions and referrals to other specialists as needed.
Based on your family history, your doctor may refer you for genetic counseling. Other reasons people go for genetic counseling include having had several miscarriages, infant deaths, trouble getting pregnant (infertility), or having a baby with a genetic condition or birth defect in a previous pregnancy.
- Maintain good oral health.
Surprisingly, there’s a connection between healthy pregnancies and good oral health.
The rise in hormone levels during pregnancy can cause your gums to swell, bleed and trap food, causing irritation and increasing the risk of infections. Preventative dental work is essential to avoid oral infections such as gum disease, which has been linked to premature birth.
Poor oral health is also linked to gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and babies with low birth weight. Regular oral health checkups before and during pregnancy may be protective against poor maternal and birth outcomes, keeping you and your baby healthier.
1) Finer LB and Zolna MR, Declines in unintended pregnancy in the United States, 2008–2011, New England Journal of Medicine, 2016, 374(9):843–852, http://nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1506575. 2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 3) National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center.
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