Thinking about starting a family is an exciting time. Maybe you’re daydreaming about cradling a little one in your arms or imagining what he or she may look like. Wherever you are on your journey, it’s important to start preparing even before pregnancy. That’s because those first few weeks after conception can be an important time for a baby’s development.
“The cells that will develop into your baby’s organs start to form only a few weeks after your last period, which for many women is before they even realize they’re pregnant,” explains Dr. Joseph Troise, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist with LewisGale Physicians who sees patients at clinics in Salem and Lexington. “As much as possible, it is important to plan when you want to become pregnant and to prepare your body, even before conception.”
Here, Dr. Troise shares seven tips on how you can optimize your good health prior to pregnancy.
- See your primary care provider or obstetrician
A preconception visit with your primary care provider or obstetrician can help you safely prepare for pregnancy. Together, you and your doctor will make a plan to get any pre-existing health conditions (such as diabetes or heart conditions) under control before becoming pregnant. Your provider will also review all prescriptions and over-the-counter medications to ensure they are safe to continue during pregnancy.
- Stop smoking
Smoking (and exposure to secondhand smoke) can have a serious impact on pregnancy, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- You may have a harder time getting pregnant
- You may be at a higher risk of pregnancy complications
- Your baby is at higher risk of birth defects, preterm labor, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) If you or someone living in your home smoke, make a plan to quit smoking before you become pregnant. Find tips and support at gov.
- Don’t drink or take drugs
While most people understand that drugs can seriously impact a baby’s health, they may brush off a sip (or glass) of wine here and there as not a big deal. However, research indicates otherwise.
The CDC states that alcohol at any point in pregnancy can cause serious health issues and birth defects. Alcohol passes from your blood directly to the baby through the umbilical cord. Alcohol use during pregnancy can lead to:
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)
If you struggle with alcohol or drug use, please get help. There is no shame in finding the support and care you need – for your own good health and your baby’s.
- Ask about genetic testing
Genetic testing before you become pregnant can help you identify the risk of passing along inherited conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, seizure disorders, Tay-Sachs disease, or blood clotting disorders.
You may want to consider testing if:
- Genetic conditions run in your family (or your partner’s)
- Close family members (yours or partner’s) have had children with inheritable diseases
- You are of a certain ethnicity, including Ashkenazi Jewish, African American, Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian
“It may seem stressful to think about genetic testing, but it also can be informative or reassuring, especially if you believe that your baby is at risk of inheriting a certain condition,” says Dr. Troise.
Your doctor can help you decide if genetic screening is right for you and refer you to a genetic counselor to learn more about testing.
- Check if you need vaccines
Vaccines have a long history of eliminating diseases and reducing the risk of developing severe illness from viruses, such as the flu or COVID-19. Fortunately, most vaccines are safe during pregnancy. But, some are not. The CDC recommends getting the chickenpox and rubella vaccines before becoming pregnant.
You can safely roll up your sleeve before or during pregnancy for any of the following vaccines:
- Tdap (protects against whooping cough)
- Flu shot
- COVID-19 vaccines
- Hepatitis B vaccine
- Hepatitis A vaccine
“It is particularly important to get your flu and COVID-19 vaccinations when you are pregnant,” urges Dr. Troise. “Pregnant women have a significantly higher risk of needing to be hospitalized if they become infected with COVID-19. Getting vaccinated is a safe way to protect you and your baby.”
Schedule your flu and COVID-19 vaccines and start building your protection now.
- Take a prenatal vitamin
Prenatal vitamins are an important part of preconception care. Give your body the nutrients it needs for baby, including:
- Folic acidto help protect against spina bifida
- Omega-3 to promote brain health
- Iron for improved blood volume
- Calcium for bone health (yours and baby’s)
- And many other vitamins and nutrients
“Over-the-counter prenatal vitamins are readily available and there are many inexpensive options that fit the bill just as well as more expensive, name-brand alternatives,” encourages Dr. Troise.
- Maintain a healthy weight
A healthy weight can have a bigger impact on pregnancy than you may have realized. In fact, a healthy weight can:
- Improve your chances of getting pregnant
- Reduce your risk of developing complications during pregnancy (like gestational diabetes)
- Lower the risk of complications for baby, including:
- High birth weight
- Spina bifida
- Heart defects
Your doctor may discuss plans to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight before, during, and after pregnancy. That’s particularly true if your BMI is over 30 or below 18.5.
Dr. Troise and the team of experienced OB/GYNs at LewisGale Physicians offer women’s health services for patients of all ages, including women preparing for pregnancy. Providing you proven and expert guidance, they’ll help you feel comfortable, safe, and empowered when it comes to your health.