If you’re trying to conceive or hoping to become pregnant, there’s never been a better time to pay attention to your health. Actions you take now can maximize your chances of a healthy pregnancy and birth and can establish positive habits that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. Midwives can help you navigate the important decisions you’ll need to make.
You have a major health advantage simply by knowing you wish to become pregnant now or in the future. In the United States, 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, which research has shown to be linked to an increased risk of problems for moms and babies. According to Childbirth Connection, planning your pregnancy may help you to:
- conceive more easily,
- have a healthier pregnancy,
- avoid or minimize pregnancy complications,
- give birth to a healthier baby,
- recover more quickly and easily after giving birth,
- have a more pleasant postpartum (post birthing) experience, and
- minimize your child’s risk of future adult health problems.
Having a planned pregnancy gives you the opportunity to take smart, health-promoting actions such as the following.
Make a visit to your health care provider. Before or while you’re trying to conceive is a great time to get to know your health care provider and make a change if you’re not satisfied with your provider. Preconception visits should include:
- Getting a complete physical exam, including a gynecologic exam.
- Discussing health concerns like anemia, hypertension, diabetes, and depression.
- Reviewing any medications or supplements you are taking.
- Providing a thorough family health history.
- Making sure you are up to date on all recommended adult immunizations, including the flu vaccine.
Evaluate your emotional, social, and financial health. You don’t have to have things perfectly together before you have a baby, but you do need a strong support system. There are many resources in every community for strengthening your emotional, social, and financial well-being and for planning for the future. Your midwife can offer advice on helpful topics, such as becoming a parent, breastfeeding, sibling preparation, your changing relationships, and preparing for the costs of caring for your child. Your midwife can also help you manage stress during pregnancy and help you find other local resources such as childbirth education classes.
Achieve a healthy weight. Healthy weight varies depending on how active you are and your overall body frame. But there is a point at which weight begins to have a serious impact on health. Excess weight during pregnancy increases the risk of complications such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. On the other hand, women who are too thin often experience irregular cycles or may suffer from other underlying health conditions like anemia. The key to success is to aim for a healthy weight now, before you get pregnant. Body mass index (BMI) is a way of checking if your weight is healthy for how tall you are. You can calculate your BMI here.
Get moving. In addition to preparing your body for conception and pregnancy, being physically active can help you lose weight, have more energy, sleep better, look younger, live longer, enjoy sex more, feel happier, avoid heart disease and high blood pressure, and avoid bone injuries. Studies show that as little as 15 minutes of moderate exercise—like fast walking or dancing—3 times a week can improve the health of your heart. If you want to really feel good, try to increase your activity to at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week. If you have a serious health problem, be sure to talk with your health care provider before starting an exercise program.
Eat well. Be sure to eat a balanced, healthy diet of whole foods like grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, and low-fat sources of dairy and meat. If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, you also need to be sure to eat foods and/or supplements rich in folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.
Stop smoking. Tobacco use can impair fertility, delay conception, and increase your risk for ectopic pregnancy. Preconception care recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stress the importance of smoking cessation for women who wish to become pregnant. If you are not yet pregnant or breastfeeding, counseling and medications can improve your chance of quitting. Once you become pregnant, there are fewer medication options and more precautions.
Avoid alcohol. There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. The best advice is to stop drinking alcohol when you start trying to get pregnant. You may become pregnant and not know it right away – it can be up to 4 to 6 weeks before you know for sure. This means you could unknowingly be drinking and exposing your developing baby to alcohol. Alcohol use during pregnancy can also lead to miscarriage and stillbirth. Ask your health care provider for help. Together, you can develop a strategy for you to quit drinking.