Preconception Health for Women
Pregnancy should not be considered only a 9 month journey but as a year long journey. Knowing that the first few weeks of pregnancy are the most vital to the development of the baby, a mother should be healthy and avoid any harmful activities and substances near the time of conception. Some habits are harder to break, and some health issues take longer to address. Preconception health for women will be beneficial to you and your baby. Following these simple guidelines can help you prepare for pregnancy.
Before you become pregnant you want to make sure that you cut out any habits that are harmful for your baby. These habits include:
Smoking – Smoking during pregnancy is estimated to account for 20 to 30 percent of low-birth weight babies, up to 14 percent of preterm deliveries, and about 10 percent of all infant deaths according to the American Lung Association.
Drinking Alcohol – There is no safe amount of alcohol to consume while you are pregnant.
Recreational drug use – For example, smoking marijuana during pregnancy can increase the chance of miscarriage, low birth-weight, premature births, developmental delays, and behavioral and learning problems.
Prescription drugs – There are many prescription drugs that are teratogenic (cause birth defects). Talk with your healthcare provider about any and all prescription drugs you are taking.
Hazardous chemicals – There are some chemicals that can also be teratogenic. For example, most studies show that the greatest risk of exposure to pesticides is during the first three to eight weeks of the first trimester when the neural tube development is occurring. This is often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
Stress – Stress has been linked to delayed or missed periods which can cause difficulty tracking ovulation and getting pregnant. Limit your amount of stress as much as possible. You may find it helpful to employ relaxation techniques or yoga to help calm things down.
Herbs – Most herbs and herbal remedies are not mandated by the FDA, and therefore, there is little to no research on the effect they have on pregnancy. Discuss any herbs with your healthcare provider.
Caffeine – Some studies have shown a link between high levels of caffeine consumption and delayed conception. A few studies have shown that there may be an increase in miscarriages among women who consume more than 200 mg (one 12oz cup of coffee) a day versus those who do not consume any caffeine.
You should replace these old habits with new healthy habits. These healthy habits include:
- Exercise – Start exercising now. Set goals for what you want to achieve. Ask yourself if you want to lose weight, gain weight, build muscle, or improve lung capacity. Some good exercise options include walking, swimming, bicycling, and aerobics. Yoga is an excellent choice for exercise because it incorporates posture, breathing, and concentration which will be beneficial for you during labor. Talk with your healthcare provider about what is best for you.
- Read – Read books on pregnancy and child birth. It is important that you are educated and prepared.
- Track your menstrual cycle – This is very important. Your doctor will ask you about your menstrual cycle, so you need to be prepared. Keeping track of your cycle will also help you track your ovulation and increase your chance of pregnancy.
- Practice relaxation techniques – Relaxation can help minimize stress, and as you have already read, stress is not a woman’s best friend. Try Yoga or listening to soft relaxing music in a warm bath.
- Get lots of sleep – If you are not receiving 8 hours of sleep a night, you should start. Adequate amounts of sleep can also help relieve stress and tension.
- Eat healthy – Nutrition is vital to your health. The healthier you are the easier the pregnancy will be for you. You might start on some supplements to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need. Just make sure to tell your health care provider about any supplements you are taking.
You are what you eat, and so is your baby. Make sure that you are getting lots of vitamins in your diet, and start taking folic acid now. Studies have shown that folic acid (300-400mcg a day) can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects when taken before conception.
For more information on the suggested amount of vitamins to consume during pregnancy (which is the same for preconception) look at our chart on Essential Nutrients & Vitamins.
Maintain an ideal weight
Your weight can play a significant role during conception and pregnancy. When planning to conceive you want to avoid being over or under weight.
Underweight (10% below normal range)
- Exercise to build muscle
- Increase energy intake
- Eat at least three meals a day
- Eat more food at each meal
- Eat more snacks
- Drink juices and milk
Overweight (20% above normal range)
- Choose a realistic eating plan
- Make sure your eating plan includes nutritional adequacy
- Drink adequate amounts of water
- Combine your eating plan with exercise
Discuss any plans for weight loss or gain with your healthcare provider.
Make an appointment with your Midwife or Doctor
It is important that you see your healthcare provider before you become pregnant. There are medical conditions that you may not be aware of that can affect your pregnancy. Some of the most common conditions include:
- Diabetes – If you are diabetic you should get your diabetes under control. Pregnancy increases the chances of diabetes, and it can make it hard for a mother who is already suffering from diabetes.
- High blood pressure – If you have high blood pressure before pregnancy, you must closely monitor your blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Anemia – A complete blood count (CBC) can measure your hemoglobin, red & white blood cell count, and the appearance of your platelets. Anemia can cause weakness and fatigue during pregnancy.
- Thyroid problems – The test to check for thryoid issues consists of a blood test which measures your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Hyperthyroidism (overactive) can lead to premature birth and low birth weight if left untreated. Hypothyroidism (underactive) can lead to infertility or miscarriage when left untreated.
- STDs – It is best to know if you have an STD before getting pregnant, since some STD’s can cause pregnancy compliations. For example, ectopic pregnancy is a risk for a woman who has chlamydia. If chlamydia is left untreated, it can also lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) which can cause infertility.
Other testing and screening that is common during a preconception health check up are:
- Pap Smear – A pap smear can check for cervical dysplasia.
- Breast exam – If over the age of 35, you may receive a mammogram.
- Blood type – If you are RH negative you will have to be desensitized prior to labor.
- Immunity to Rubella (measles) – The March of Dimes recommends that all women be tested for immunity to rubella before they become pregnant and that they consider being vaccinated at that time if they are not immune. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that a woman wait at least 4 weeks after receiving the vaccination before trying to conceive.
- Immunity to Varicella (chicken pox) – As with rubella it is recommended that all women be tested for immunity to varicella before they become pregnant and that they consider being vaccinated at that time if they are not immune. The CDC recommends that a woman wait at least 4 weeks before trying to conceive after receiving the vaccination.
At your appointment you will also be asked for your medical and family history.
Medical history may include:
- Medications you take
- Past pregnancies
- Medical conditions
Family history may include:
- High blood pressure
- Seizure disorders
- Mental retardation
Some couples may also need to seek Genetic Counseling. For the majority of couples, genetic counseling is not necessary .