We all know about the importance of prenatal medical care in assuring the health of a pregnant woman and her baby. But most experts now recommend that women start seeing an obstetrician before they become pregnant for something called pre-pregnancy or preconception care.
- Think your decision through
Having a child is a lifetime commitment. Before you try to conceive, consider whether you’re ready to take on this responsibility.
- Schedule a preconception visit
You don’t have to have a doctor or midwife lined up to deliver your baby yet, but call your ob-gyn, midwife, or family practice doctor now for a preconception checkup. Your practitioner will review your personal and family medical history, your present health, and any medications or supplements you’re taking. Certain medications and supplements are unsafe during pregnancy, and some may need to be switched before you even try to conceive because they’re stored in your body’s fat and can linger there.
Your practitioner will likely discuss diet, weight, exercise, and any unhealthy habits you may have (such as smoking, drinking, and taking drugs); recommend a multivitamin; make sure you’re up to date on your immunizations; test you for immunity to childhood diseases such as chicken pox and rubella; and answer any questions you have. In addition, you may be referred to a specialist if you have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure, that need to be controlled before you get pregnant.
If it’s been at least a year since you had a checkup, you can also expect to have a pelvic exam and a Pap smear, and to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases if you’re at risk.
- Consider genetic carrier screening
Your practitioner should offer you genetic carrier screening before you start trying to conceive to see whether you or your partner is a carrier for serious inherited illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and others. This may be the single most important thing you can do to help ensure a healthy baby, and all it requires is a saliva or blood sample from each of you.
- See your dentist
When you’re preparing for pregnancy, don’t forget about your oral health. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum disease. The good news is that women who take care of their periodontal health before they get pregnant cut down on their chances of experiencing gum complications in pregnancy. See your dentist for a checkup and cleaning now if you haven’t done so in the past six months.
- Aim for a healthy weight
You may have an easier time conceiving if you’re at a healthy weight. Having a low or high body mass index (BMI) makes it harder for some women to become pregnant. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to achieve your weight goals.
- Create and follow an exercise program
Start and stick to a fitness plan now, and you’ll be rewarded with a healthy body that’s fit for pregnancy. A healthy exercise program includes 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise, such as walking or cycling and weight training, on most days of the week. To increase flexibility, try stretching or yoga, and you’ll have a well-rounded fitness program. Once you’re pregnant, it’s okay – even recommended – to continue exercising. If exercising hasn’t been a priority for you lately, you’ll need to ease into an exercise routine. Start with something tame, like walking 10 to 20 minutes a day.
- Figure out when you ovulate
Some women simply stop using birth control when they’re ready to get pregnant and let fate decide when they’ll conceive. Others take a more calculated approach by charting their periods and tracking symptoms to try to pinpoint their fertile days each month. Use our Ovulation Calculator to get a rough estimate of when you’re most fertile. If you want to be more exact, start charting your basal body temperature (BBT) and the changes in your cervical mucus. Tracking these symptoms over several months can help you figure out when you’re ovulating during each cycle.