Taking care of yourself before becoming pregnant is the best thing you can do for you and your unborn baby. The more you can be involved and take control of your body, the greater the likelihood you will have a healthy pregnancy and baby. Now is the time to make positive changes in your lifestyle and habits. Here are some things to consider both before getting pregnant and during pregnancy:
- Smoking cessation. If you are a smoker, stop smoking now. Studies have shown that babies born to mothers who smoke tend to be lower in birthweight, which puts babies at risk for additional complications. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke may adversely affect the unborn baby.
- Proper diet, weight, and exercise. Now is the time to get in shape. Eating a balanced diet before and during pregnancy is not only good for your overall health, but also essential for getting your body ready for pregnancy. It's also important to exercise regularly and maintain a proper weight before becoming pregnant. Talk with your health care provider about starting a regular exercise program.
- Medical management (of pre-existing conditions). Take control of any current or pre-existing medical problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, before you get pregnant. If high blood pressure goes unchecked, women and their unborn babies are at risk for pregnancy complications, such as poor fetal growth and preterm birth. Babies of women with uncontrolled diabetes are at risk for birth defects and stillbirth.
- Prevent birth defects. Take 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid (a nutrient found in some green, leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some vitamin supplements) each day. Folic acid can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (also called neural tube defects).
Because many women may not be aware they are pregnant in the first few weeks, it's a good idea to avoid exposure to alcohol and drugs when you are planning a pregnancy. In addition, be sure to inform your health care provider of any medications (prescription and over-the-counter) you are currently taking, as all may have adverse effects on your unborn baby.
- Avoid exposure to harmful substances. Avoid exposure to toxic and chemical substances (e.g., lead and pesticides) and radiation (e.g., X-rays) when trying to become pregnant. Exposure to high levels of some types of radiation and some chemical and toxic substances can be harmful to an unborn baby.
- Infection control. Seek proper treatment for all vaginal infections and/or sexually transmitted diseases. Be sure to let your health care provider know if you are having any signs or symptoms, such as itching and redness of the vulva and vagina, vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, or burning with urination. Treating these infections is important as they may cause complications with pregnancy and can be harmful to the unborn baby. Since many infections are shared sexually, both partners may need treatment.
- Identify domestic violence. Women who are abused before pregnancy may be at risk for increased abuse during pregnancy. If you need protection, your health care provider can assist you in finding community, social, and legal resources to help you put an end to domestic violence.
- Reduce stress. Difficult challenges and responsibilities at home, in relationships, and in the workplace can cause stress. In turn, stress can have negative physical effects on you and your unborn baby, including high blood pressure and lowered resistance to disease and illness.
The following are some suggestions to reduce or better manage much of the stress in your life:
- Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. A nutritious, well-balanced diet and exercise can keep your body fit and able to resist disease. Exercise is an excellent way to elevate your mood.
- Talk about your stressful situations with someone you trust. Sometimes, just talking about your problems and concerns can help you put them into perspective and give you insights into ways to deal with them.
- Stay organized to help manage your time more efficiently.
- Remember, no one can do it all alone. Ask for help.
- Use relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body.
- Seek professional assistance should you need it.