Health care providers agree that preconceptional planning for pregnancy offers the opportunity to get a baby off to the best possible start. Good health before you become pregnant is one of the most important parts of having a healthy pregnancy and baby. Recent studies indicate that more than 50 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. This means that most women are not even aware they are pregnant in the crucial first eight weeks of pregnancy, when a baby's entire organ system forms.
Preconceptional health refers to the health of the person planning to be pregnant before conception. The goal of preconceptional health is to provide women and their partners with information to make timely informed decisions about their reproductive futures such as prevention of unintended pregnancies, and identification of risk factors that could affect reproductive outcomes.
Some preconceptional risk factors are diabetes, hypertension, phenylketonuria (PKU), HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, repeated spontaneous abortions and previous low-birthweight infant. Others are underweight, overweight, vitamin deficiencies, smoking, alcohol and illegal drug use.
In preconceptional counseling, careful review of a woman's medical, reproductive, nutritional, and family history are included so that potential problems can be discovered, individualized education provided and possible interventions discussed and offered. A health care provider such as a physician, nurse-midwife or advanced practice nurse may provide such service.
Tips for Pre-Pregnancy Planning
If you are planning a pregnancy, make an appointment with your health care provider and pay attention to the following points:
- Start taking prenatal vitamins at least one month before you try to conceive. Get your daily level of folic acid to 400 micrograms per day, and increase your calcium intake. Studies indicate that folic acid could prevent up to 70 per cent of some types of serious birth defects such as spina bifida (open spine), and anencephaly (a lethal defect involving the brain and skull).
- Exercise regularly in order to reach your normal body weight before becoming pregnant. Talk to your physician about exercise during pregnancy.
- Check to make sure that you are immune to rubella (German measles), and get immunized if you are not.
- Acquire HIV testing and immunization for hepatitis B. Talk to your physician about toxoplasmosis, handling raw meat and cat litter.
- Seek genetic counseling for epilepsy, lupus, and Crohn's disease. Bring hypertension and diabetes under control.
- Reduce or eliminate the use of over-the-counter and prescription medications with your physician's approval.
- Eliminate the use of alcohol, reduce caffeine intake and quit smoking. Avoid street drugs of any kind.
- Avoid hot tubs and saunas, as elevated body temperatures in early pregnancy may increase the risk of neural tube defects.
- Ask your physician about any potential hazards in your workplace such as lead, mercury, industrial solvents, radiation or any dangers posed by your hobbies.
For more information, please contact the Reproductive and Perinatal Health Services, Maternal, Child and Community Health Services, at (609) 292-5616.