The decision to have a baby is one of the biggest you will make in your lifetime. When you are ready to take this step, there are a few things you can do to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
A Preconception Healthcare Visit
Schedule a preconception visit with your doctor before you try to get pregnant. During this visit, you can discuss your health and get advice on how to prepare your body for pregnancy.
If you have health problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or are overweight or obese), your doctor can prescribe medications or lifestyle changes to help control these problems before pregnancy.
You will want to tell your doctor about all the medications you take. They can determine whether or not they are safe to take while trying to get pregnant or during pregnancy. For example, if you are taking isotretinoin (an acne medication), you must stop it before pregnancy. You may also be advised to avoid aspirin, some types of antidepressants, antihistamines, antibiotics, anticoagulants (used to treat blood clotting disorders), and anticonvulsants (used to treat seizure disorders). But, do not stop taking prescription medications without talking to your doctor first.
During the preconception visit, your doctor may do tests to determine whether you have had rubella or a rubella vaccination, have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and/or hepatitis, or have other health problems, such as anemia. If you have not had all of your immunizations, especially rubella, you should have that done at least 3 months before getting pregnant.
Finally, if serious genetic diseases run in your family, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, talk to your doctor about whether you or your partner should have genetic testing before becoming pregnant.
Pre-pregnancy Diet, Exercise, and Weight Control
Make sure you are eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats or meat alternatives. Your doctor will probably also suggest that you begin taking a prenatal vitamin that contains 400-800 micrograms of folate (folic acid). Folate deficiencies during early pregnancy have been linked to an increased risk of neural tube defects. Iron is another essential nutrient that is usually added to prenatal vitamins. Iron has a number of important functions, like helping red blood cells carry oxygen to cells throughout the body.
Try to get 30-60 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as walking, jogging, biking, swimming) on most days of the week. The more fit you are, the healthier and easier your pregnancy will be. Some healthcare professionals recommend that you do not increase your physical activity after you are pregnant. Try to get in a regular exercise routine before becoming pregnant. However, excessive exercise is associated with difficulty becoming pregnant, so do not overdo it.
A healthy diet and regular exercise can help you lose weight if you are overweight. Women who are overweight are at increased risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and other complications that affect both mother and fetus. Calculate your body mass index (BMI) to determine whether you are overweight. Losing as little as 10% of your body mass can reduce the risk complications that may result in preterm delivery, cesarean section, abnormally large fetus, shoulder dystocia and stillbirth.
Some Things to Avoid At All Times, Particularly During Pregnancy
Smoking is associated with increased risks of miscarriage, bleeding, pelvic pain, congenital heart defects, premature birth, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), lower IQ, and slower physical growth.
Cocaine and other illegal drugs can increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, birth defects, and infant drug withdrawal. This includes the use of marijuana, which is legal to use in some states. If you drink alcohol, you should also limit or avoid drinking while trying to become pregnant. Alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS can lead to mental slowness, poor growth, and physical defects. Your partner should also follow these guidelines since these substances affect his sperm. Your doctor can help you find ways to quit.
You should limit your caffeine intake while trying to become pregnant. Drinking more than 2 cups of coffee, tea, or caffeinated soda a day may decrease your chances of getting pregnant.
Make sure you are not being exposed to toxic substances, such as radiation or heavy metals. Avoid having x-rays while you are trying to get pregnant or while pregnant. The radiation from x-rays can put your developing baby at risk. If you are concerned about anything you are being exposed to, talk to your doctor.
American Pregnancy Association
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Health before pregnancy. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/minority-health/taking-care-health/before-pregnancy.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Pregnancy calendar: Week 1. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/week1.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Reproductive health. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences website. Available at: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/repro-health. Accessed January 29, 2021.
3/12/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900646/Prevention-of-preterm-labor-and-preterm-birth: Schummers L, Hutcheon JA, Bodnar LM, Lieberman E, Himes KP. Risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes by prepregnancy body mass index: A population-based study to inform prepregnancy weight loss counseling. Obstet Gynecol. 2015;125(1):133-143.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 1/29/2021