Are you hoping to become pregnant soon? How exciting! You’re probably already thinking about the “fun stuff”—baby names, nursery decor, and tiny clothing. What every prospective mom wants most, however, is a healthy baby. With this most important goal in mind, here is a preconception checklist to help ensure your healthy pregnancy and an optimal start in life for your baby:
Before you get pregnant…
- Get a preconception checkup. It’s important to be as healthy as possible before you conceive a baby. A pre-pregnancy exam can reveal health issues you may need to address before becoming pregnant. Be sure to talk to your doctor about:
- All the prescription medications and over-the-counter products you take. Would these affect your unborn baby? If so, what alternatives are available?
- Medical history. Let the doctor know if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, or an auto-immune disease such as lupus, or if you have had rubella (measles), chickenpox, or a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This information will help determine if you need certain immunizations, tests, or any special care during pregnancy.
- Family history. Are there are genetic disorders in your or your husband’s family, such as sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, or Gaucher disease? If so, it may be wise to ask your doctor for a referral to a genetic counselor.
- Visit your dentist. Although dental X-rays involve a very minimal amount of radiation, one benefit of planning ahead is the opportunity to completely protect your baby from even this tiny risk. Tell your dentist you’re planning a pregnancy and would like to get any X-rays you may need now, before you conceive. The hormonal changes of pregnancy can affect oral health, so follow your dentist’s advice to ensure that your teeth and gums are in good health before pregnancy. Some studies link periodontal disease to an increased risk for pre-eclampsia (toxemia), a condition that sometimes occurs in pregnancy. Toxemia poses a risk to both mom and baby due to high blood pressure and swelling caused by fluid retention.
- If you drink alcohol or use drugs, stop now. Alcohol is a teratogen, a substance known to cause birth defects. Alcohol crosses the placenta and enters the baby’s body, so there is no amount of alcohol that is safe to drink during pregnancy. Some recreational drugs may also harm your unborn baby. If you are unable to stop drinking or taking drugs, tell your doctor or seek a mental health counselor with expertise in substance abuse. Until you stop drinking or using drugs, use birth control so you don’t become pregnant.
- If you smoke, quit now. If you are a smoker, the very best thing you can do to ensure a healthy baby is to stop smoking. Smoking nearly doubles the chances that your baby will have a low birth weight. Low birth weight babies are at risk for many very serious health problems. Smoking also increases the risk of premature birth or miscarriage.
- Start taking folic acid now. Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects in the neural tube, the structure that develops into a baby’s brain and spinal cord. It is important to start taking folic acid before you become pregnant. Here’s why: neural tube development occurs very early in pregnancy when you may not yet even realize you are pregnant. Therefore, folic acid needs to be in your body before pregnancy occurs. For most women, the correct amount is 400 micrograms (mcg.) each day. However, if you are very overweight, have a hemoglobin disorder such as sickle cell disease, have diabetes, or take a medicine for seizures, you may need more. Check with your doctor. The easiest way to get folic acid is to take a multivitamin that contains the correct amount. (Read the label to be sure.) You can get extra folic acid from fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, broccoli, dried peas, orange juice, and beans.
- Get moving! If you already exercise regularly, keep it up! If not, it’s time to make exercise a regular part of your lifestyle. Exercise relieves stress, strengthens muscles, combats depression, helps prevent constipation, and increases your energy level. When you become pregnant, review your exercise regimen with your doctor. Make any modifications your doctor suggests, but continue to be physically active throughout your pregnancy. Not only will an active lifestyle benefit you physically and emotionally, it can even help make the delivery of your baby easier.