Your 9 Month Overview
|Why Prepare For Pregnancy?
Congratulations, you have decided to try for a baby. Now that you have taken the first exciting first step, the next step is to ensure that your body is in the best possible health. That way, when you do become pregnant, both you and the baby have a much better chance of experiencing a problem-free pregnancy. This article covers some important guidelines you can follow to prepare your body for conception. These guidelines are called Preconception Healthcare - an area of healthcare that covers the health of a woman before she becomes pregnant. It covers factors such as nutrition, prescription drugs, exercise, alcohol, smoking and emotional support. Experts agree that the healthier a woman is before pregnancy, the less likely she is to have a premature or low birth weight baby. Even women who are not immediately considering pregnancy should be thinking of their health, particularly as nearly half of all pregnancies in America are unplanned. Of the 6 million pregnancies which take place each year, 467,000 babies are born prematurely and 307,000 babies are born with low birth weight. A little preparation can go a long way. Women planning a pregnancy after 35 should take particular care of their preconception health.
When Should I Start Preparing?
Healthcare providers agree that women should start preparing their body for pregnancy at least three months before conception. Issues to address include quitting smoking, reaching a healthy weight and adjusting prescription drugs. It is never too soon to start establishing your pregnancy healthcare team. This is also a good time to talk about practical social concerns like money and lifestyle adjustments which will be necessary when the baby is born. Take a look at our prenatal care guide to see what else is in store for you. Additionally check out pregnancy books for more resources.
What Are The Preparation Steps?
Stop Taking Contraceptives
Quit the birth control pill, or whatever method of contraception you have been using. At first your cycles may be irregular but they should regularize within a few months. Statistics show that 20% of couples conceive in the first month of trying for a baby, with the vast majority (80%) within the first 6 months. Read about when is it safe to get pregnant after stopping the Pill?, as well as how long does it take to get pregnant? and what age does fertility go down in women?
Vitamin & Mineral Supplements
400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid a day is recommended for at least 1-2 months before pregnancy to help prevent birth defects. In particular it reduces the risk of your baby developing neural tube defects, one of the main types of birth defects which occurs when the brain or spinal cord does not develop properly (spina bifida). Additionally a daily multivitamin with at least 100 mcg of B6 is recommended as studies show this helps reduce the symptoms of morning sickness including nausea. The multivitamin should also include 15 mg of zinc, which helps fertility. If you feel you might need an extra boost in the fertility area, check out: how can I increase my fertility naturally?
Did you know that smoking can age your eggs? A 30 year old smoker's eggs can act more like a 40 year old's eggs. This results in lower fertility and increases the risk of low birth weight, miscarriages, pre-term births, stillbirth and other pregnancy complications. Additionally, if your partner smokes, his sperm count is likely to be reduced. So quitting smoking will not only help you conceive, but it will give your baby a wonderful start in life. Women who continue to smoke during pregnancy are at increased risk of many complications including placenta previa, placental abruption and premature labor. Additionally it raises the chance of the baby being born with a low birth or suffering sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Reduce Or Stop Alcohol Intake
Although a daily drink will not affect your ability to conceive, heavy consumption may interfere with your fertility cycle.
Limit Your Caffeine Intake
There are no set guidelines on the consumption of caffeine drinks (teas, coffees, sodas) during or just before pregnancy, but it is generally considered safer to reduce consumption or to switch to decaf completely. If you really like your coffee then up to 2 cups of caffeinated coffee a day, even when pregnant, is still considered safe.
Improve Your Diet
A well-balanced diet, such as one which follows Low GI principles, with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, lean meat and whole grains will help keep you strong and healthy. Additionally, it is important to reach a healthy weight, if you are not already in the correct weight zone for your height. Being underweight can affect fertility levels, and being overweight can lead to complications during pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and hypertension. Women with a BMI under 20 or over 29 may experience more problems. Studies show that if obese women reduced their weight to normal levels before pregnancy, the rate of gestational diabetes could be cut by 50 percent. Also a study published by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health in 2011 pointed to an increase risk in asthma symptoms in adolescents where their mother was overweight or obese pre-pregnancy.
If all women of reproductive age achieved a healthy weight, maintained a balanced diet and exercised daily, the incidence rate of hypertension in pregnancy could be cut by 50 percent. Healthy women should exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week. Moderate aerobic activity such as brisk walking is ideal and also suitable for pregnant women. Also, consider starting Kegels exercise. See, What are pelvic floor exercises?
Keep note of your menstrual cycle. An average menstruation cycle lasts 28 days and your most fertile period is generally 14 days before your next period. However this can vary for individual women, so you could try an Ovulation Predictor Kit (OPK), which works by detecting hormones in the urine. You can buy these kits in most pharmacies.
Have Existing Medical Conditions Checked
If you have any existing medical conditions, including diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, a yeast infection, obesity, or oral health issues, do be sure to get them under control before pregnancy. If you do not have any of these conditions, it may be worth asking your doctor to screen you, just in case something is festering. You may be limited in the prescription drugs you can take during pregnancy. Depression can be more complicated to treat, but doctors know that depression in a mother can affect an infants health. This may be because depression can cause women to engage in activities associated with adverse outcomes, such as smoking and substance abuse. It is also worth updating your immunizations, such as tetanus-diphtheria (should be carried out every 10 years). If you were never immunized against rubella, measles and mumps, do so now.
Heart Disease While Pregnant
The number of women with pre-existing heart conditions who are surviving into adulthood and having children is rising (mainly due to advancement in medical care). While many women with heart disorders are able to tolerate pregnancy well, it remains a major concern because complications are still frequent and life-threatening. Maternal heart disease is the leading cause of maternal death in Europe. For this reason, women in this risk category are considered high risk in pregnancy and require very careful monitoring. Congenital heart disease is the most common type of cardiovascular disease in pregnant women (75 to 83 percent). According to the European Society of Cardiology Guidelines, women with heart disease should be screened and risk-assessed before becoming pregnant. If pregnancy goes ahead, it should be managed closely at specialized centers experienced in treating such cases. They will also give specific advice on delivery and childbirth and postpartum care. In addition, the number of women who were seemingly healthy before pregnancy but who then develop heart disease during pregnancy are also rising. It is believed the increasing numbers are due to the rising age of women experiencing pregnancy after 35 and due to the increasing numbers of women with obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
Have a Dental Check-Up
A visit to the dentist before pregnancy is almost as important as a visit to the doctor. That's because pregnancy hormones can aggravate tooth or gum problems - so it is worth sorting any issues before you conceive. Be sure to have any fillings, dental surgery or X-rays carried out, so it won't have to be done while pregnant.
Don't forget to take time to de-stress. Stress could prevent you from conceiving, so learn to relax, mediate or simply wind down. When your bundle of joy finally arrives, there won't be much time for you, so make the most of it now. When you think you may be experiencing some of the early signs of pregnancy, read about carrying out a pregnancy test. You may also want to know what are the early signs of pregnancy before a missed period?
What If I'm Already Pregnant?
If you are already pregnant and did not follow these steps, don't worry. Many of the steps can still be started in time to make the best of the pregnancy ahead of you.
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