The idea of having your body ready for pregnancy makes sense on many levels. Taking care of yourself reduces the risk of problems for your unborn baby, especially when pregnancy catches you off guard. Developing babies are highly susceptible to birth defects and other problems during the first eight weeks of pregnancy, when women often do not realize they are expecting or well before they have their first prenatal visit with a health-care professional.
It’s especially important that women seek medical advice before conceiving to prevent problems with subsequent pregnancies if they’ve ever had the following problems: a low-birth-weight baby (a child who weighs less than five and a half pounds at birth); a preterm infant (born between the twentieth and thirty-seventh week of pregnancy); a child with a birth defect; or infant death.
A Preconception To-Do List
Check Your Weight
When you’re trying to have a baby, your body weight takes on new meaning. For instance, the right weight makes it easier to get pregnant. That’s because either too much or too little body fat interferes with a woman’s fertility. There’s even some evidence that it might be more difficult for overweight and underweight women to conceive by means of high-tech methods such as in vitro fertilization. If both you and your partner are overweight, it could take even longer to conceive a child than if only one of you needs to shed some pounds. A 2007 Human Reproduction study found that excess body fat interferes with a man’s fertility.
Starting pregnancy at a healthy weight gives your child a better chance of developing normally. It also helps to lower the risk of the following complications for you during pregnancy:
- High blood pressure
- Gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
- Induced labor (which can need more medication to get the job done and which can also lead to a longer labor)
- Cesarean section
- A larger baby who is more difficult to deliver
Get Medical Checkups
It’s important to be checked for certain conditions, such as iron-deficiency anemia and diabetes, during your regular preventive health appointments with your primary care physician, or certified nurse-midwife. Regular screening, such as a yearly blood test (often called a complete blood count, or CBC) may turn up problems that you can deal with well before pregnancy. Taking control of medical conditions before pregnancy will produce the healthiest outcomes once you’re expecting.
You may be one of the estimated eight million women of childbearing age with an iron deficiency that’s severe enough to cause anemia, and you might not even know it. It’s harder to correct iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy, when the demand for iron skyrocket, so it’s beneficial to catch the condition before conception and try to correct it. Simply testing for iron in your blood may not be enough to decide if you are at risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Have your health-care provider test for ferritin, a reflection of stored iron in the body. Checking your ferritin level is a better way to gauge your chances for iron-deficiency anemia. A low ferritin level in the bloodstream means that you might have the condition.
Women in their childbearing years should keep their vaccinations up-to-date. According to the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists and the March of Dimes, women should make sure that they are current with the following vaccinations before they try to conceive:
- Tetanus-diphtheria booster
- Measles, mumps, and rubella
- Varicella (chicken pox)
- Human papilloma virus (HPV)
Some of these shots are live viruses, which should be avoided during pregnancy. Wait a month after receiving any vaccine to try to conceive. You may also need the following shots (check with your health-care provider):
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Influenza (flu) vaccine (made from an inactivated virus)
Pay a Visit to Your Dentist
An attractive smile is more than a reflection of your mood. Your mouth serves as a gateway to the rest of the body, including germs that can put your pregnancy at risk. Untreated mouth infections are linked to complications for women and their infants.
An analysis of seventeen published scientific articles in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology concluded that there’s probably an association between preterm birth or low-birth-weight infants and periodontal disease (PD) in their mothers. PD is a chronic infection of the gums, caused by the bacteria present in plaque, the colorless film that forms on teeth. The most likely culprit is a labor – inducing chemical called prostaglandin. Women with severe PD have very high levels of prostaglandin in their mouths. It’s important to make every effort to complete any necessary dental work, such as fillings or crowns, before conception. Confirm that you are not pregnant before having dental X-rays and local anesthetic, neither of which is good for the baby.