For many people, pregnancy is easy and natural. It often happens without even trying. According to research published by the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned.
However, if you are thinking of getting pregnant soon, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Preparation can help you have both a healthy pregnancy and a healthy infant.
There are a number of steps a couple can take to increase their chances of having a healthy pregnancy.
Couples trying to get pregnant should see a doctor for pre-conception guidance and support. This is particularly important if one or both of the parents has a history of medical issues that might affect fertility. Such issues include:
- high blood pressure
- a history of cancer
- thyroid disease
- sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- endometriosis (women)
- fibroids (women)
A doctor can make sure that any medications either of you might be taking don’t negatively impact either fertility or the developing baby. If particular types of medication are necessary for the health of either parent, your doctor may be able to prescribe safer alternatives.
During a pre-conception appointment, your doctor will also assess your overall health and well-being. It’s a great time to discuss potential lifestyle changes that can help you achieve a successful pregnancy and healthy child.
Make Regular Appointments
Work with your healthcare provider to monitor your fertility and general health. This can help ensure a healthy and safe pregnancy.
Regular visits will continue to be important once you have conceived. Post-conception visits are known as prenatal care. Prenatal care is important for a healthy pregnancy. It can reduce the risk of:
- low birth weight
- preterm birth
- complications from gestational diabetes
- birth defects, particularly neural tube defects
Take Folic Acid
Women looking to become pregnant should get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day starting at least one month before pregnancy. They can supplement their daily multivitamin with folic acid. They can also look for a multivitamin with added folic acid, such as a prenatal vitamin.
Folic acid has been shown to decrease the risk of certain serious birth defects and miscarriage. It is important to start folic acid supplementation before trying to get pregnant.
Your body is going to need all the vitamins and nutrients it can get while you’re pregnant. Get a head start on eating well. Eating well is key to a healthy life and a healthy pregnancy. You should also take a daily multivitamin to make up for whatever your food leaves out.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being underweight or overweight can dramatically reduce fertility. This is true for both men and women.
Couples should work with doctors or nutritionists to achieve a more optimal weight. This will also help get the mother on a good footing for the weight she will gain during pregnancy.
Exercising for 30 minutes five to seven days a week is a good way to help:
- maintain or lose weight
- build physical health
- reduce stress
Moderate exercise is a great way to stay healthy before, during, and after pregnancy. However, overly intense exercise can cause fertility problems. Talk to your doctor about establishing a pregnancy-positive exercise routine.
Cut Back on Vices
Certain vices can decrease fertility. In men, for example, sperm problems can be caused by:
- heavy drinking
- use of illicit drugs including anabolic steroids, marijuana, and methamphetamine
For women, the best time to stop smoking is before you are pregnant. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of complications and birth defects. The same goes for use of illicit drugs. For example, women who use cocaine or methamphetamines are at a higher risk of:
- low birth weight
- birth defects
- preterm labor
Drinking alcohol, or even lots of caffeine, can also make conception more difficult for women. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol, and should significantly limit their caffeine intake to no more than 150 mg a day. Both substances significantly increase the risk for premature birth, birth defects, and infant death.
Avoid Exposure to Toxins
Toxins found in the workplace and the home may affect your fertility. They can also potentially impact the health of your pregnancy and future child.
You can look for ways to reduce exposures to toxins at home and work. Using protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, while cleaning or working on repair projects may help.
Pregnant women should also try to avoid exposure to cat and rodent feces as much as possible. Droppings may contain the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. Infection could potentially harm a developing fetus, or may cause problems later in life, such as blindness or mental disabilities.
Learn Your Family History
Talk to your relatives about whether any genetic diseases run in your family. You should also find out if your families seem particularly prone to chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure or cancer. These risks may affect your pregnancy process.
Your doctor may recommend genetic counseling if you are at very high risk of passing on an inherited disease.