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Planning a Pregnancy

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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The decision to have a baby is one of the biggest you will make in your lifetime. When you are ready for this monumental step, there are a few things you can do to ensure you are ready to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

A Preconception Healthcare Visit

Before trying to get pregnant, schedule a preconception visit with your doctor. During this visit, you can discuss your health and get advice on how to prepare your body for pregnancy.

If you have health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure , or overweight or obesity , your doctor can prescribe medications or lifestyle changes to help get these problems under control before pregnancy.

Also, you will want to tell your doctor about all the medications you take. He or she can determine whether they are safe to take while trying to get pregnant or during pregnancy. For example, if you are taking isotretinoin (an acne medication), you must discontinue it in advance of pregnancy. You may also be advised to avoid aspirin, acetaminophen, antidepressants, antihistamines, antibiotics, anticoagulants (used to treat blood clotting disorders), and anticonvulsants (used to treat seizure disorders). But do not stop taking prescription medications without consulting with your doctor.

During the preconception visit, your doctor may perform tests to determine whether you have had rubella or a rubella vaccination, have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and/or hepatitis, or have other health problems such as anemia. If you have not had all of your immunizations, especially rubella, you should have then done at least three months before getting pregnant.

Finally, if serious genetic diseases run in your family, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, talk to your doctor about whether you or your partner should have genetic testing before becoming pregnant.

Pre-pregnancy Diet, Exercise, and Weight Control

Make sure you are eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lowfat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats or meat alternatives. Your doctor will probably also recommend that you begin taking a prenatal vitamin that contains 400-800 micrograms of folate (folic acid), since folate deficiencies during early pregnancy have been associated with increased risk of neural tube defects.

Aim to get 30-60 minutes of moderate physical activity (eg, walking, jogging, biking, swimming) on most days of the week. The more fit you are, the healthier and easier your pregnancy will be. Some healthcare professionals recommend that you do not increase your physical activity once you are pregnant, so try to get in a regular exercise routine before becoming pregnant. But excessive exercise is associated with difficulty becoming pregnant, so do not overdo it.

A healthful diet and regular exercise can help you lose weight if you are overweight. Women who are overweight are at increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy. To determine whether you are overweight, you can calculate your body mass index (BMI, a measure of your weight in relation to your height).

Some Things to Avoid Before—Not Only During—Pregnancy

If you smoke or use illegal drugs, it is very important to quit before trying to become pregnant. Smoking is associated with increased risks of miscarriage, bleeding, premature birth, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), lower IQ, and slower physical growth. Marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs can increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, birth defects, and infant drug withdrawal. If you drink alcohol, you should also limit or avoid drinking while trying to become pregnant. Alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which can lead to mental slowness, poor growth, and physical defects. Your partner should also limit alcohol and try to quit using illegal drugs or smoking, since this can affect his sperm. Your doctor can help you find ways to quit.

You should limit your caffeine intake while trying to become pregnant, because drinking more than two cups of coffee, tea, or caffeinated soda a day may decrease your chances of getting pregnant.

Additionally, make sure you are not being exposed to toxic substances, such as radiation or heavy metals. Avoid having x-rays while you are trying to get pregnant or while pregnant, since the radiation from x-rays can put your developing baby at risk. If you are concerned about anything you are being exposed to, talk to your doctor.


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Are you ready financially? March of Dimes website. Available at: http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/173_14007.asp . Accessed July 20, 2005.

Are you ready physically? March of Dimes website. Available at: http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/173_14005.asp . Accessed July 20, 2005.

How to choose a multivitamin. March of Dimes website. Available at: http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/173_15354.asp . Accessed July 20, 2005.

Pregnancy calendar: week 1. Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_calendar/week1.html . Accessed July 20, 2005.

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The right way to get pregnant. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences website. Available at: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/oc/factsheets/pregnant/home.htm . Accessed July 20, 2005.


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

American Pregnancy Association

Last reviewed May 2007 by Jeff Andrews, MD, FRCSC, FACOG

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.