How To Prepare For Pregnancy

Every woman should do the following to get her baby off to a healthy start even before she becomes pregnant. So says Robert Blaskiewicz, M.D., professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

healthy woman

"A very small percentage of patients do preconception planning," says Blaskiewicz, a SLUCare physician at SSM St. Mary's Health Center who has delivered more than 6,000 babies since he began practicing obstetrics in 1979. "Most women are healthy and don't anticipate problems. It's just common sense, though, for a woman to look at the things within her control to make sure her pregnancy is smooth and her baby is healthy."

He says it's better to get into shape for a pregnancy before you actually conceive. "The two times in a woman's life that you see most changes in lifestyle occur during pregnancy and around menopause. You have a heightened awareness of health issues," Blaskiewicz says. "I see a lot of heads nodding when I talk about this in the office. Many patients tell me, 'I hadn't thought about this -- that's something I should be doing.'"

Blaskiewicz's top 10 tips

Here are Blaskiewicz's suggestions for women who are thinking of becoming pregnant:Start taking a multivitamin that includes 0.4 to .8 milligrams (mg) of folic acid. Folic acid reduces neural tube defects -- which involve the brain or spine -- up to 10-fold.

  • Don't drink alcoholic beverages if you are past the point in your menstrual cycle when you have ovulated. If you are taking illegal drugs, stop. "Assume you're pregnant," Blaskiewicz says. "Whether you drink in excess or very rarely, any alcohol early in your pregnancy is too much because it can jeopardize your baby's development at a critical time. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a leading cause of mental retardation."
  • If you are past the time in your cycle when you have ovulated, check with your doctor before you take an over-the-counter medication (even for a cold) or a prescription.
  • Review family histories for both of your families with your obstetrician. Go as far back as grandparents to check for cases of birth defects or genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis. Check to see if your mother and grandmothers had difficulties getting pregnant, frequent miscarriages or late-pregnancy stillborn births. "These problems can be markers for genetic problems, which couples should know about before a pregnancy," Blaskiewicz says.
  • If you don't have an exercise program in place, get one going. Blaskiewicz recommends walking for about 20 to 30 minutes most days. If you participate in strenuous physical activities, talk to your doctor.
  • Make sure your weight is under control before you become pregnant. Many women begin having problems with excessive weight gain during their reproductive years. They gain 40 to 50 pounds during pregnancy, lose 20, become pregnant and gain another 40 to 50, then lose only 20. "If you gain 50 pounds during your pregnancy, you're setting yourself up for health risks later on, which include diabetes and hypertension."
  • Take 1200 milligrams of calcium (about three to four servings) spread throughout the day.
  • Avoid megavitamins, such as massive doses of vitamins A and E and antioxidants, which have not been proved to be safe in pregnancy. Instead, stick to the standard daily vitamin requirements.
  • Stop smoking and limit your exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Get the vaccination for rubella (German measles) before you become pregnant.

"So many woman get pregnant and then modify their lifestyles," says Blaskiewicz. "Their pregnancies could be easier, and their babies healthier, if they made healthy changes before they conceived."

More about pre-pregnancy

Preparing to be parents: Are you ready?
Planning for a healthy pregnancy
5 Ways to increase you fertility

Tags: family planning

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