Preparing for your next pregnancy

If you are planning to become pregnant, taking certain steps can help reduce risks to both you and your baby. Proper health before deciding to become pregnant is almost as important as maintaining a healthy body during pregnancy.

The first few weeks are important to a child’s development. However, many women don’t realize they are pregnant until several weeks after conception. Taking care of yourself before becoming pregnant is the best thing you can do for you and your baby.

One of the most important steps in preparing for a healthy pregnancy is to get a preconception exam. The exam is done by your healthcare provider before you become pregnant. During that visit, your overall health will be checked. Your healthcare provider will let you know of any possible risk factors that may make pregnancy difficult. You can also get advice and treatment for medical problems that may be changed by pregnancy. These include health problems such as diabetes or heart disease. By preparing in advance, you can be your healthiest before becoming pregnant. A preconception exam may include:

  • Family medical history. Your medical history will help find out if any family member has had any medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and/or developmental disability.

  • Genetic testing. A review of any possible genetic problems should be done since several may be passed down in families. These include problems such as sickle cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease. Some genetic problems can be found by blood tests before pregnancy.

  • Your medical history. Your healthcare provider will review your personal medical history to find out the following:

    • Medical problems that need special care during pregnancy, such as epilepsy, diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, and/or allergies

    • Previous surgeries

    • Past pregnancy history, including the number, length of pregnancy (gestation), previous pregnancy complications, and/or pregnancy losses

  • Update your vaccines. Make sure you are up-to-date on your vaccines or shots. Your healthcare provider may want to check your immunity to rubella or German measles. Getting this disease during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or birth defects. If you are not immune, a vaccine may be given one month before conception to provide immunity. Most vaccines should not be given during pregnancy.

  • Checking for infection. This is done to find out if you have any type of infection that could be harmful to you and your unborn baby.

Reduce your risk of complications

There are steps you can take to help reduce your risk of complications. These steps will help you prepare for a healthy pregnancy and delivery. They include:

  • Quit smoking. If you are a smoker, stop smoking now. Studies have shown that babies born to mothers who smoke tend to be born too soon or have a lower birth weight. They have a higher chance of birth defects such a cleft lip or palate. They are also more likely to be stillborn or die of SIDS. In addition, being exposed to secondhand smoke makes you more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby.

  • Eat well. Eating a balanced diet before and during pregnancy is good for your overall health. It is also needed for nourishing your unborn baby.

  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise. It is important to exercise regularly and maintain a proper weight before and during pregnancy. If you are overweight, you may have medical problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Being underweight may put your baby at risk for having a low birth weight.

  • Manage your health problems. Take control of your current medical problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

  • Prevent birth defects. Take 400 mcg of folic acid each day, or as directed by your healthcare provider. Folic acid is a nutrient found in some green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and vitamin supplements. Folic acid can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord called neural tube defects. If you have a family history of spina bifida, congenital heart defects, or cleft lip or palate, your healthcare provider may prescribe extra folic acid based on your family history.

  • Avoid alcohol. Any kind of alcoholic drink is harmful during pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or developmental delays.

  • Report your medicines. Tell your healthcare provider of any medicines you are currently taking. This includes any prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal supplements you are taking since some may have harmful effects on the developing baby.

  • Avoid harmful chemicals. Avoid being exposed to harmful chemicals and substances, such as lead and pesticides. If it is medically necessary, some X-rays are OK to have during pregnancy. Being exposed to high levels of radiation and some chemicals may be harmful to your developing baby.

  • Avoid infection. You should avoid eating undercooked meat and raw eggs. Also avoid contact and exposure to cat feces and litter. This is because it may put you at risk for toxoplasmosis. This problem can cause serious illness or death of the unborn baby.

  • Take daily vitamins. Begin taking a prenatal vitamin every day. This will help make sure that your body gets all the necessary nutrients and vitamins needed to nourish a healthy baby.

  • Get help for domestic violence. If you are abused before pregnancy, you may be at risk for increased abuse during pregnancy. Your healthcare provider can help you find community, social, and legal resources to help you deal with domestic violence.