Prenatal: Get Into Good Health Before Pregnancy
If you're thinking about conceiving a child, you'll want to be in the best physical health possible -- both for your sake and your baby's. Your baby will be vulnerable to birth defects and other health issues during those first few weeks, when you'll still be unaware that you're pregnant. This is why women of child-bearing age who might possibly have an unplanned pregnancy should also be vigilant about their health.
How Bad Health Affects Your Baby
According to WebMD, your baby's development will be affected by your health and lifestyle choices. It is during the critical time of early pregnancy when neural tube defects such as spina bifida can occur, so it is crucial that you are consuming 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before you conceive.
Lifestyle choices, such as drinking alcohol and smoking can lead to premature delivery, birth defects, and other health issues in your baby. Over-the-counter drugs can also affect your baby's health, so if you need to take any pain relievers or other medications, be sure to check with your physician first about what is safe to take during each stage of pregnancy.
Even your dental health can affect your baby. WebMD says, "Babies born to mothers with periodontal [gum] infections are twice as likely to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, and three times more likely to need hospitalization beyond seven days, the CDC reports."
Obesity can put you at risk for high blood sugar and diabetes. And a baby in the first 13 weeks of development is at risk for birth defects if exposed to high blood sugar. In addition to obesity, other conditions such as high blood pressure and asthma can put you at risk for preeclampsia, which prevents enough blood from entering the placenta, and can cause complications with the pregnancy and your baby's health.
Preparing for Pregnancy
The best time to see your doctor about your pregnancy is about three months before you plan to conceive. Your doctor will help identify any potential health risks, as well as make sure you work toward healthy habits before you get pregnant.
Talk with your doctor about any conditions you may have, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, asthma or depression. WebMD also advises, "It's also important to share with your doctor your family history, including incidence of twins, mental retardation, blindness, deafness, cystic fibrosis, congenital birth defects, Tay-Sachs disease, sickle trait/sickle cell, and thalassemia."
If you're on any medications, discuss with your doctor which ones are safe during pregnancy and which ones aren't. You'll also want to talk with your doctor about your vaccination schedule. Some vaccines (such as measles and chicken pox) are harmful to a developing baby and should not be given during pregnancy or even within a few months before conception, while other vaccines (such as tetanus) are generally considered safe.
Your doctor can also provide you with prenatal vitamins. You'll want to make sure you're getting plenty of folic acid, and consuming this vitamin through foods such as green leafy vegetables, citrus, beans and nuts.
Your doctor may also recommend that you make other diet changes. If you're used to junk food, coffee, sodas and fast food meals, now is the time to incorporate more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats into your diet -- before you become pregnant. WebMD recommends, "Get at least four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods daily; get at least one serving of foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and folic acid daily. Avoid excessive vitamin A, which may be associated with birth defects."
You'll also want to avoid high-mercury fish (such as swordfish), raw shellfish, unpasteurized soft cheese, and saccharin. Watch your caffeine levels (no more than 300 milligrams a day -- about two small cups of coffee). And if you're using alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs, quit now before you conceive. If you cringe at the thought of giving up these addictive substances, talk with your doctor about possible options to help you quit.
As mentioned earlier, your dental health is also an important factor for a healthy pregnancy. So maintain your cleaning appointments with your dentist and good oral hygiene habits at home. If you're not a flosser, now is the time to get into the routine. If you think you may need dental work performed in the upcoming months, have the procedure done before you become pregnant, since your blood flow is greater during pregnancy and your gums will likely bleed more.
To help with conception and a healthy pregnancy, seek to control your stress levels. If you need to, talk with a counselor, buy a book on stress management or relaxation techniques, or cut out some stressful activities in your life. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet will also help your stress levels.
While preparing for pregnancy may involve some significant lifestyle changes on your part, your baby's health -- and your own -- will benefit greatly from them.
Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.
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