Prenatal care? Check. Read pregnancy books? Check. Take prenatal vitamins? Check.
There are a lot of things a woman should do when she is pregnant. But did you know there are also things she should do before becoming pregnant? The decision to grow a family is one of the most important and joyous times in a woman's life. It's a time spent imagining the future, picking names and choosing nursery colors. However, before a woman even gets pregnant, she should start thinking about her own body and making lifestyle changes.
"Preconception health is the most vital time to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby," said Kayla Nebelsick, DO, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Franciscan Physician Network in Michigan City and LaPorte, Indiana.
Do I Need A Preconception Checkup?
All women considering pregnancy should schedule a preconception check-up where they will be started on prenatal vitamins, undergo blood work, have a pap smear and discuss their current medications, family history and previous pregnancies.
"This is a time to be very open with your doctor about your lifestyle and past history," Dr. Nebelsick said. Topics such as smoking, alcohol, marijuana and drug use will also be discussed, and she stresses there is no safe level of any of these activities during pregnancy.
"Make yourself sure that you are the healthiest you," said Dr. Amanda Smith, who practices family medicine and obstetrics with Franciscan Physician Network in Mooresville, Indiana. "That includes giving up those habits that could harm a baby like smoking. Smoking can lead to low birth rates, preterm labor, and slower healing after you have the baby. If you're currently smoking, don't worry. You can always quit before you get pregnant, but you can always quit during your pregnancy. It's never too late to quit smoking because even just a couple weeks without any cigarettes can lead to a healthier baby."
What If I Have A Chronic Medical Condition?
For women with chronic medical conditions, it is important to have the condition as well-controlled as possible before pregnancy with medications considered safe throughout pregnancy. "It's not enough to just treat a medical condition," said Walter Harry, MD, a Franciscan Physician Network board-certified maternal and fetal medicine specialist in Indianapolis and Lafayette, Indiana. "It must be treated in a way that is safest for baby."
Do I Need Genetic Counseling Before Becoming Pregnant?
For some couples planning a pregnancy, underlying genetic abnormalities can cause a genetic condition in the future baby. For these couples, genetic counseling can play a vital role. Genetic counseling is a process to evaluate and understand a family's risk of an inherited medical condition. A genetic counselor is a healthcare professional with specialized training in medical genetics and counseling.
"The field of genetics is one of the most rapidly advancing areas of medicine and the role our genetic counselors play can't be over-emphasized," Dr. Harry said. Many of his patients fall into this category because they have a genetic condition themselves or they have a previous child born with a genetic abnormality. For these patients, genetic counselors can provide testing, education and in some cases, prevention, to help parents minimize risk and optimize health.
How Should I Eat Before I Become Pregnant?
Getting healthy before pregnancy reduces the chances of gestational diabetes and hypertension, and Dr. Nelebsick stresses healthy eating is key.
"I don't like to use the word 'diet' because it's all about choosing healthy nutrition, which is what helps regulate hormones and increase the chances of becoming pregnant," she said.
Dr. Nebelsick recommends:
- Eating more leafy greens and healthy fats such as salmon, nuts and avocados
- Eliminating processed foods
- Reducing sugars and grains
"You need to maintain a healthy diet, knowing what you eat is probably going to go to baby too," Dr. Smith said. "Most people think, 'Well, I'll lose that five pounds after I have the baby.' Or, 'I'll eat healthier when I decide that I'm going to be pregnant.' But changing those habits now is the best way to make sure that you're going to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
What Supplements Should I Take Before Getting Pregnant?
According to Dr. Nebelsick, womae can benefit from taking supplements such as:
Benefits of Prenatal Vitamin Before Pregnancy
"If being pregnant is even on the radar for you, try to take a prenatal vitamin every single day," Dr. Smith said. "This ensures that no matter when you get pregnant, you will have plenty of vitamins stores to pass onto baby. The baby will be taking all of those vitamins from you. It also has been shown that taking a prenatal vitamin can decrease those less than ideal symptoms of pregnancy. In fact, vitamin B6 has been linked with less morning sickness if you take more and more of that every day."
Benefits of Folic Acid
"Few things can have such an important impact as taking folic acid," Dr. Harry said. "In addition to preventing open neural tube defects such as spina bifida, research is also showing that folic acid may prevent other birth defects, too."
What Health Changes Should Dad Make?
When planning a new baby, future dads can prepare their bodies, too.
"Pregnancy and parenting is a group effort and there are lots of things dad can do to support mom and create a healthy environment for baby," said Dr. Nebelsick.
Her tips for dad include:
- Stop smoking. Tobacco use negatively affects sperm. Additionally, second hand smoke in the home increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Choose healthy foods and stay hydrated. Healthy nutrition and adequate water consumption both increase male fertility.
- Exercise. Moderate exercise can reduce stress and increase male fertility.
- Make sleep a priority. Quality sleep balances testosterone levels and can help reduce stress.
- Communicate. Focus on good communication with your partner and make sure both future parents are ready for the stresses of a new family member.
"It's easier for mom to be healthy if dad is on board," said Dr. Nebelsick. "I love to see couples make a group effort and support each other during this exciting time in life."