By Kathryn Simons, M.D.
McMurray OB/GYN Associates
201 Waterdam Plaza Drive, Suite 201
McMurray, PA 15317
The decision to have a have a baby is very exciting. For many women, this decision also comes with many questions. What can I do to prepare myself for pregnancy? What can I do to have a healthy pregnancy? How long will it take to get pregnant?
The preconception period, the time before pregnancy, is the ideal time to optimize healthy habits and lifestyle choices. It is also the time to modify bad habits that could negatively affect a pregnancy. A healthy lifestyle, with a well balanced, nutritious diet and regular exercise, is important at all times in a woman’s life but particularly when trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy.
Although most nutrients come from the food that you eat, a multivitamin is an excellent supplement to guarantee that all your daily vitamin requirements are met. One of the most important vitamins when preparing for pregnancy is folic acid. Daily folic acid (400 micrograms, the amount commonly found in a multivitamin) in the pre-pregnancy period and first three months of pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
A normal body weight before and during pregnancy helps overall fertility and minimizes complications of pregnancy. Women with excess weight are more likely to experience complications of pregnancy including: elevated blood pressure, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, pre-term birth and increased rate of cesarean delivery.
Women who are underweight are more likely than normal weight women to have a low birth weight baby or experience a preterm delivery. If possible, achieving a normal body weight before becoming pregnant will optimize pregnancy outcomes.
In addition to improving healthy habits with exercise and a well balanced diet, it is time for both partners to eliminate unhealthy habits such as smoking, drug use and excess alcohol use. Stopping these behaviors before pregnancy reduces the risk of birth defects and other complications of pregnancy associated with substance abuse.
The preconception period is also an important time for a woman to review her own medical history. Are her immunizations up to date? Although some vaccinations are safe during pregnancy, it is ideal to make sure that she has received all of the recommended vaccines before pregnancy.
Many women also have medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, seizure disorders or depression, which can increase the risk of complications to the mother and baby during pregnancy. It is important for a woman to discuss these conditions with the health care provider who is treating the condition and her obstetrician, so that the medical condition is well controlled before pregnancy. In addition, some medications are not safe to use during pregnancy. Medication changes can be made before pregnancy to minimize complications or birth defects.
Once a woman has optimized her health and lifestyle for pregnancy, the next question is often “how long will it take to get pregnant?” A couple can start trying to conceive immediately after stopping birth control. Although fertility can be influenced by many factors including age and overall health, most couples (85 percent) are able to conceive within one year. A couple who has not conceived after 12 months of regular, unprotected intercourse should meet with their physician to begin an evaluation for possible factors affecting fertility.
Preparing for pregnancy will help create a healthy environment for the mother to-be and the baby that will soon be growing inside of her.
To learn more about preparing for a healthy pregnancy, attend our next Girl Talk Program, Healthy Beginnings: Fertility, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Wed., March 7, sponsored by Spa Harmony at the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center. Panel discussion: 6-7 p.m. featuring experts from Spa Harmony and The Washington Hospital. Expo featuring an acupuncture demonstration, 5:30-6 p.m., and 7-8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but please register at 724-250-5238.