You may not be pregnant yet, but there's plenty you can do now to make yourself as healthy as possible for a growing baby. Consider this your preconception to-do list.
1. Make an appointment with your doctor.
True, you'll be seeing them plenty after you conceive, but it's a good idea to book a visit ahead of time, too, even if you've been pregnant before. If you have any health issues that could affect your chances of conceiving or that could make a pregnancy more risky, it's important to get those under control now.
Your doctor will want to start a prepregnancy checkup by getting a full medical history from both you and your partner. They may also want to run a number of tests — such as blood tests and a Pap smear — to make sure that neither of you have any medical conditions that could affect pregnancy or your chances of conceiving. Your doctor might test for illnesses such as:
- Rubella, or German measles immunity
- Chickenpox immunity
- Hepatitis B immunity
- Other STDs (such as chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea)
- Thyroid problems (with a TSH test)
- Other conditions, such as toxoplasmosis and parvovirus B19 (also called fifth disease)
Finally, depending on your ethnicity, your doctor may recommend genetic tests for:
- Sickle cell anemia
- Thalassemia (an inherited form of anemia)
- Genetic diseases common in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, such as Tay-Sachs disease
If it's time for you to update your vaccines, it's important to do so before you are pregnant. A few specific vaccinations, such as the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), varicella (the virus that causes chickenpox), or hepatitis A vaccines increase the risk of birth defects. Experts advise that you wait at least 28 days after receiving some of these vaccinations before trying to conceive.
Talk to your doctor about the vaccines you need now and which ones you'll need later. Doctors give some shots during pregnancy, like the Tdap vaccine for whooping cough, so your baby can also benefit from the protection.
If diseases like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease run in your or your partner's family, you might also want to see a genetic counselor or do preconception screening tests.
2. Check your gums.
There's a connection between good oral health and a healthy pregnancy. Gum disease is linked to early birth and low birth weight. So now's the time to see a dentist to tackle any problems.
3. Quit smoking and drinking.
You may already know that tobacco and alcohol during pregnancy are never OK. They're bad for a baby's growth and can cause health problems for them when they get older.
But even now, smoking and drinking can make it harder to get pregnant and raise your odds of a miscarriage. Talk to your doctor about programs that can help you quit these habits.
4. Cut back on caffeine.
Drinking more than two cups of coffee or five cans of soda a day (about 250 milligrams of caffeine) could make it harder for you to conceive and raise the chances that you'll miscarry.
Switching to decaf now has another advantage: You won't have to put up with caffeine cravings during those first few weeks of pregnancy.
5. Eat smart.
There's no better time to cut out junk food and all of its empty calories. Make sure you're getting plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean protein every day.
A healthy diet before you conceive can make you less likely to get gestational diabetes, a type that affects pregnant women.
6. Take folic acid.
Folic acid, found naturally in leafy green vegetables and artificially in fortified flour and rice products, has been shown to lower the risk of certain birth defects.
Experts recommend that in addition to a good diet, you should take a multivitamin with folic acid daily for 3 months before pregnancy and continue throughout your pregnancy. If you've had a previous pregnancy in which the fetus had birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, your doctor will probably recommend a higher dose of 4 mg of folic acid daily.
7. Shed extra pounds.
Extra weight can raise your odds of problems like gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy — a condition called preeclampsia.
It generally isn't a good idea to lose weight while you're pregnant, so if you want to lose weight, start now.
8. Think about the meds you take.
It's important to let your doctor know about all the drugs you're taking — prescription, over the counter, even vitamins and herbs. Some of them could affect your baby.
9. Get picky about seafood.
You've probably heard that it's smart to steer clear of fish that are high in mercury while you're pregnant. But it can take up to a year for your body to clear the element from your blood.
Fish on your plate twice a week is fine, but pass on the kinds that have a lot of mercury, like swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark.
10. Hit the gym.
Not only will exercise help you get to a healthy weight, but it'll also get you into shape for labor and delivery. Once you're expecting, look for special prenatal classes that are safe for moms-to-be.
11. Think about the changes that having a baby will bring.
Having a child will affect everything in your life — your career, your finances, and your relationship with your spouse or partner, among other things. Nine months can be a pretty short time to figure all of those issues out, so your doctor may be able to give some advice that will help get you ready. Your doctor may also suggest preconception classes at a local hospital if they're available.
- Baeten, J. American Journal of Public Health, March 2001.
- CDC: “Vaccines for Pregnant Women."
- FDA: “Food Safety for Moms-To-Be: Before You're Pregnant – Methylmercury."
- March of Dimes: “Get ready for pregnancy," “Smoking, alcohol, and drugs."
- Office of Women's Health: “Preconception Health."
- Saini, R. Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, July 2010.
- Texas Children's Hospital: “Eating Right Before Pregnancy."
- Tobias, D. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2012.
- University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center: “Preparing for pregnancy."