Preparing for Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, MD

Planning and Preparing for a Healthy Pregnancy

If you’re planning to get pregnant, you likely have a lot of questions. To make sure you have the right answers you need to start planning well in advance.

Do I need to see a doctor before trying to get pregnant?

The short answer is, yes. A pre-pregnancy check-up gives your nurse or doctor the chance to ask you about things, which may affect you and your pregnancy. You may be asked about the birth control you use, medicines you’re on, your lifestyle, your diet, any other pregnancies and perhaps any diseases that run in your family, or those that you have.
To make sure you pregnancy is a healthy one, you need to do these things BEFORE getting pregnant:

Find out if you’re up-to-date on all of your vaccines
  • You need to be current with vaccines against things like tetanus, rubella, mumps, measles, polio, diphtheria, chickenpox (may be called varicella), and possibly hepatitis. While many women received the vaccines as kids, it’s important you know whether you’ve had all of the correct vaccines. If not, you risk getting sick with some of these diseases, which could lead to problems for both you and your baby. Every woman also needs to get the flu shot each year.
  • Keep in mind certain vaccines can’t be given during the month before pregnancy, or during pregnancy. This is why you need to get these vaccines at least a month before you begin trying to get pregnant.

Talk about any herbal drugs, supplements or medicines you’re on, and if you need to make a change
  • You need to find out if everything is safe during pregnancy, or while you’re trying to get pregnant. In some cases, certain medicines take a while to leave your system, so you need to plan in advance. Your doctor may even want to switch you to a medicine that’s safer for your unborn child.
  • In some cases, it may be harmful to your baby to stop taking a medicine suddenly, so your doctor will want to gradually get you to stop taking it. This is important in cases where women take certain medications to treat things like high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and seizures.

Find out which foods are best for you, and which ones to avoid
  • A pregnant woman or a woman who is trying to get pregnant shouldn’t eat undercooked or raw meat. You’ll also want to stay away from king mackerel, swordfish, tilefish or shark due to the high mercury levels. Ask your nurse or doctor about fish that’s caught in local lakes and rivers.
  • As far as caffeine, you don’t want to drink more than a cup or two of coffee a day. While cola and tea contain caffeine too, it’s usually less than coffee.
  • Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet of whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Before you eat vegetables or fruits, though, make sure they’re washed.
Begin taking a multivitamin rich with folic acid (may also be called folate)
  • If you’re trying to get pregnant, every day you need to be taking a prenatal multivitamin. It needs to contain at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. This will help prevent certain birth defects. Begin with the multivitamin starting a month before trying to get pregnant, or even earlier. It won’t do you as much good if you wait to start until you find out for sure you’re pregnant. By then, your baby will have already formed body parts reliant on vitamins and folic acid for normal development.
  • You also want to make sure you’re not taking an excess of certain vitamins. This is especially true with vitamin A. Make sure you let your nurse or doctor see the vitamins you have, and see the doses, so you know they’re safe for your baby and for you.

Make sure you understand the risks to your baby and to you concerning diseases that run in both families, plus any of your medical conditions
  • Certain medical conditions could translate into problems for your baby or for you while you’re pregnant. If you have a medical condition, make sure your doctor knows so that he or she can work with you to control the condition before you get pregnant. This is relevant for things like asthma, seizure disorders, thyroid conditions, high blood pressure and diabetes. As well, if you are infected with HIV or have other problems. If you don’t control these conditions, it may lead to addition problems for you and your baby.
  • If there’s a medical condition in your family history, you could pass it along to your baby and find yourself needing genetic counseling. This will help you discover how likely your baby is to have the same condition. It may also help you with your options if your baby does have the condition. Genetic counseling may be used in the case of muscular dystrophy, mental retardation or cystic fibrosis.
Stop taking drugs your doctor didn’t prescribe to you, plus stop drinking alcohol and smoking
  • Even using small amounts of alcohol, drugs or prescription drugs not prescribed for you, could hurt your unborn child.
  • You don’t want to wait until finding out you’re pregnant, either. Your baby will have already started forming and drugs, alcohol or smoking could hurt them. If you think you need some help to quit, talk to your nurse or doctor. Some treatments out there may help you.
  • You’ll also want to make sure your partner stops any illegal drugs and stops smoking. It’s also a good idea that he doesn’t drink a large amount of alcohol.
Attempt to go down to a healthy weight
  • If you weigh too much, or too little, you may find you have trouble getting pregnant. You may also have problems during your pregnancy. This is why it’s important to try to get to a healthy weight before getting pregnant.

Talk about any harmful substances that may be in your work or home
  • There are often dangerous substances and chemicals found in a workplace, or even your own home, which could end up hurting your child. While time consuming and complicated to deal with, you really do need to plan in advance.
  • For example, if your home was built before 1978, you may have dangerous lead paint in your woodwork or walls. Lead found in the dust or paint chips could be harmful to your baby. Talk with your nurse or doctor about dealing with his, and dealing with other potentially harmful substances in your environment.

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