Planning for pregnancy
Kathleen Kuhlman, MD, FACOG, is the Medical Director of Banner Thunderbird Medical Center’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Center.
Question: I think I’m ready to start a family. How important is it to plan for pregnancy before I get pregnant?
Answer: Preparing for pregnancy before you get pregnant is a very smart thing to do! The healthier and more prepared you are, the more likely you are to have a healthy baby. Planning a pregnancy may also help you to conceive more easily, avoid or minimize complications, recover more quickly after giving birth, and reduce the risk of having a baby with birth defects.
Question: What are some specific things I can do to prepare?
Answer: For starters, you can take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid. It is also important to eat a healthy diet, including foods that contain folate, such as fortified cereals, dried beans, and green leafy vegetables like spinach. It’s important to take folic acid before conception and early in pregnancy since birth defects of the spinal neural tube often occur in the first month of pregnancy before most women are aware they are pregnant. Folic acid is necessary for the normal development of the brain and spinal cord.
In addition, you should see your health care provider for a check-up and to update your immunizations. If you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications, make sure your doctor and pharmacist are aware of your plans to become pregnant, and can help you determine if medication can be continued into pregnancy. In some cases, there are alternative, safer medication, which should be started BEFORE conception. Do not stop prescription medications on your own when you become pregnant. In some cases you can become ill if medications are stopped abruptly. In many cases medications do not need to be stopped. You also may wish to consider genetic counseling or testing if certain health conditions, such as birth defects or genetic diseases have occurred on either side of your or your partner’s family, or if you are 35 years of age or more.
If you smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, you should stop these behaviors. Not only can these substances threaten the health of your baby, they compromise your health as well. It is never too late in pregnancy to stop risky behaviors.
Stay away from toxic chemicals such as insecticides, solvents, mercury and lead. Read product labels before using them. And when in doubt, ask your health care provider.
If you have a medical condition such as diabetes or hypertension, make sure your health is optimal. Pre conception consultation with a perinatalogist is often a good idea if you’re not sure about your health risks.