8 Expert Tips
"A very small percentage of patients do preconception planning," says Robert Blaskiewicz, MD, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Blaskiewicz 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 of the changes in lifestyle occur during pregnancy and around menopause. You have a heightened awareness of health issues," Dr 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.'"
That in mind, Dr Blaskiewicz has 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 are birth defects involving 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," Dr 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.
Learn your and your husband's family history, and review it with your obstetrician
Go as far back as grandparents to check if there have been cases of birth defects or genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis. Check to see if your mother and grandmothers have had difficulties getting pregnant, frequent miscarriages or stillborn births after the middle term of pregnancy. "These problems can be markers for genetic problems, which couples should know about before a pregnancy," Dr Blaskiewicz says.
If you don't have an exercise program in place, get one going
Dr Blaskiewicz recommends working out, which includes 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 1,200 milligrams of calcium, which is 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 watch your exposure to second-hand smoke
Get the vaccination for rubella (German measles) before you become pregnant
"So many woman get pregnant and then modify their lifestyles. Their pregnancies could be easier and their babies healthier if they made healthy changes before they conceived," says Dr Blaskiewicz.