Preparing for a Healthy Pregnancy

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Preparing for a Healthy Pregnancy

Topic Overview

Even though you're not pregnant yet, you might already be thinking about which room to turn into the baby’s room and how to decorate it. And you might be making lists of all the baby clothes and supplies that you'll need. But it's also a good time to take some steps to help yourself have a happy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Now more than ever, it's smart to get regular exercise, eat healthy foods, and drink plenty of water, as well as to reduce or stop drinking caffeine. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. When possible, avoid using medicines, including over-the-counter medicines. Always talk to your doctor first before you stop or start any medicines.

If you are not sure when you are most likely to get pregnant (when you are fertile), use the Interactive Tool: When Are You Most Fertile?

If you haven't yet chosen a health professional for pregnancy, childbirth, and after-birth (postpartum) care, give some thought to your many options. For more information, see Choosing Your Health Professional for Pregnancy Care.

Stopping birth control

If you use an intrauterine device (IUD), arrange to have it removed. If you have been taking the Pill (oral contraception) or using birth control shots (such as Depo-Provera), try to wait until you've had your first full menstrual period before you try to conceive. This may take up to 1 year.

Keep track of your menstrual periods

Understanding how pregnancy occurs and using fertility awareness can help increase your chances of becoming pregnant.

Keep track of your menstrual cycle and when you have sexual intercourse. This information will help in figuring out your due date and your fetus's gestational age after you become pregnant.

Talk to your doctor about your medicines

Before trying to conceive, talk to your doctor about any medicines or dietary supplements you are taking. You and your doctor may decide that it's best to stop taking the medicine, to take a different medicine, or to keep taking it.

Eat well

  • Cut out junk food, and eat a balanced diet. Pregnancy is not the time to lose weight. If you want to lose weight, do it before becoming pregnant. Don't go on a crash diet, because you may end up with a nutritional deficiency that could be harmful to you or the baby.
  • Take a daily vitamin-mineral supplement. Taking a supplement with 0.4 mg (400 mcg) to 1 mg (1000 mcg) of folic acid before becoming pregnant reduces the chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect.1
    • Women who have certain health risks need to take additional folic acid. These health risks include epilepsy, insulin-dependent diabetes, and obesity. These risks also include having a family history of neural tube defects or being in a high-risk ethnic group, such as Sikh. A daily dose of 5 mg (5000 mcg) of folic acid beginning at least three months before conception and continuing until 10 to 12 weeks after conception is recommended for women who have these risks.1 You also need other vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, for your health and that of your baby.

For more information on how to eat well, see the topic Healthy Eating.

Make lifestyle changes

  • Quit smoking. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Cut down on caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea, and cola drinks.
  • Stop drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can severely harm a developing fetus.
  • Stop any use of illegal drugs, such as cocaine or marijuana. Cocaine may cause serious problems in pregnancy, including abruptio placenta, fetal distress, and preterm labour.
  • Get plenty of exercise. Exercise is good for healthy pregnant women. Women who were active before they became pregnant can continue their usual exercise programs, with modifications if needed. For women who did not exercise before they became pregnant, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommends beginning with 15 minutes of continuous exercise three times a week, increasing gradually to 30-minute sessions four times a week.2 For more information, see the topic Fitness: Getting and Staying Active.

Get a checkup

If any problems or needs are found, deal with them early. Make sure you are fully immunized to prevent potential fetal harm. For example, if you have never had German measles (rubella) or the rubella vaccination or are unsure, tell your health professional. If a blood test shows that you have no immunity, you can be vaccinated. You should then wait at least 3 months after being vaccinated before you try to get pregnant.

As a part of your physical checkup, you may want to ask for a pre-pregnancy examination. Such an examination can help you find out risks to you or your potential children from pregnancy. This knowledge may help you decide whether you wish to see a family doctor or midwife for your care during pregnancy or whether you require the care of a specialist. It may also help you decide what tests you want to have done during pregnancy.

If you have a condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, be sure to talk with your doctor about what this means for your pregnancy. Find out what you need to do to manage your condition and be ready for pregnancy.

See your dentist

Have fillings or other dental work done, if needed, before you become pregnant. If you have periodontal (gum) disease, have it treated before you become pregnant.

Consider genetic testing

Talk to your doctor about whether to have screening tests for diseases that are passed down through your family (genetic disorders). You may want to have a screening test if you or your partner has a family history of genetic disorders or if certain genetic disorders are more common among people of your racial or ethnic background. Some screenings for genetic disorders include:

  • Sickle cell disease, which is most common in people of African descent.
  • Tay-Sachs disease, which is most common in people with an Ashkenazi Jewish, Cajun, or French Canadian background.
  • Cystic fibrosis, which is most common in people with a Caucasian, European, or Ashkenazi Jewish background.

References

Citations

  1. Wilson DR, et al. (2007). Pre-conceptional vitamin/folic acid supplementation 2007: The use of folic acid in combination with a multivitamin supplement for the prevention of neural tube defects and other congenital anomalies. SOGC Clinical Practice Guideline No. 201 (replaces No. 138). Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 29(12): 1003–1013. Also available online: http://www.sogc.org/guidelines/documents/guiJOGC201JCPG0712.pdf.
  2. Davies GA, et al. (2003). Exercise in pregnancy and the postpartum period. Joint SOGC/CSEP Clinical Practice Guideline No. 129. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 25(6): 516–522.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised August 9, 2011

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