You have taken the first step to becoming a parent and have decided that you are ready for motherhood. With so many things to consider, sometimes it is hard to slow down and focus on the basics. Being a good parent begins before conception. This is the time to prepare yourself to have a healthy pregnancy that will improve both your own health and that of your baby. Many women do not know they are pregnant for several weeks into a pregnancy. During the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, most all of the major organs and body systems have begun to form in your baby, and this is one of the most critical times in the pregnancy. Planning ahead gives you the opportunity to promote healthy growth, and to avoid things that may be harmful in these early weeks.
One of the most important things you can do when preparing for pregnancy is to initiate folic acid intake at least 1 month prior to conception. This is to decrease the risks of neural tube defects (problems with the baby’s brain or spine). 400 mcg daily is recommended for all women. If you have a history of a child with a NTD, or certain medical conditions you may require up to 10x more than the standard dose, and this is important to discuss with your physician. In addition to folic acid there are many other important nutrients and minerals that are included in a prenatal vitamin. Hopefully most nutrients that you will need are coming from a well-rounded diet; yet initiating a vitamin guarantees that you have the recommended daily amounts of what you will need before and during your pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins are available over the counter or by prescription. If you choose an over the counter gummie vitamin, this may not contain iron. Your body uses iron to enable red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs and tissues, and you will have increased need for iron during pregnancy as your body is creating more blood to supply oxygen to your baby.
In your time of preparation, it is important to take a look at your own medical history. Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, seizure disorders, thyroid disorders, obesity, and depression can all have an impact on pregnancy. Having one of these conditions does not mean that you cannot have a healthy pregnancy, but it does require optimization of your health, and evaluation of the medications you are taking. Exposure to sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV, is important to identify and treat prior to pregnancy. Are you a healthy weight? Do you have unsafe exposures at work? Have you had a previous pregnancy with a complication? These are all important subjects to discuss with your doctor during your planning stages. Substance abuse is one of the leading causes of problems in pregnancy, and the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs should be eliminated prior to conception as the fetus is most vulnerable in the first several weeks.
Family history can also play a role in pregnancy preparation. Many conditions are inheritable, and genetic counseling can help you prepare and understand the risk of your child being affected. Risk factors for genetic disorders include maternal age greater than 35, paternal age greater than 50, family history of: neural tube defects, congenital heart defects, down syndrome, sickle cell disease, thalassemia, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, Huntington disease, cystic fibrosis, intellectual disabilities or PKU.
With so many things to consider when deciding to become a new parent, it can sometimes be overwhelming and we overlook important things that affect our own health. Scheduling a preconceptional visit with your OBGYN is a good way to review your preparation for pregnancy, and encourages a healthy lifestyle that can benefit both you and your baby.