1. Go see your doctor before you conceive.
This preconception visit with your OB, family physician, internist or other care provider usually consists of a physical exam and a thorough discussion about your family history, personal medical history and any medications that you may be taking. Certain medications are contraindicated during pregnancy and can lead to birth defects. It’s important to switch to an alternative medication with the guidance of your health care provider before conception whenever possible. Your provider will also make sure to discuss your weight, diet, exercise and whether or not you are up to date on your immunizations. If you are at risk, you may also be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
2. Start taking your prenatal vitamins 1-2 months before conception.
Folic acid supplementation during pregnancy is essential. It is recommended that you get at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily for at least 1 month prior to conception because many young women have a folic acid deficiency. You should continue to take a vitamin containing folic acid throughout your pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you can reduce the risk of birth defects like neural tube defects and spina bifida by 50-70% with just this small measure.
When shopping for a prenatal vitamin, also make sure that it does not contain more than recommended daily allowance of 770 mcg of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can also cause birth defects and toxicity to the developing fetus.
3. Give up smoking, drinking, and/or drugs.
This is an obvious tip, but please seek help if you are having a hard time giving up smoking, alcohol or drugs. Many scientific studies have demonstrated that these substances can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, and low birth weight. They can also negatively impact your fertility.
4. See your dentist.
That old wives’ tale of “gain a child, lose a tooth” may be true. Oral health during pregnancy is crucial because hormone shifts in pregnant moms predispose them to gum disease that can potentially lead to loss of a tooth. Increased estrogen and progesterone levels during pregnancy can result in swollen, tender gums that may bleed more easily during flossing. Whatever you do, don’t stop flossing!
It is advisable to see your dentist before pregnancy and again for a cleaning at least once or twice during pregnancy. Gum disease and oral infections have been linked to preterm birth.
5. Reduce environmental risks to reduce birth defects.
There are so many environmental hazards lurking around us and you cannot eliminate all of them, but you can minimize them. If your job requires you to be in contact with chemicals, radiation, or consistently loud noises, you may need to make some changes prior to conceiving. At home, also try to minimize contact with cleaning products, paint, pesticides and solvents. If you live in an older house, it may be worthwhile to check if there are high levels of lead in your paint or in your pipes that could be released into your water supply. I recommend talking to your doctor about these potential hazards and ways to avoid or minimize your exposure to them.
Best Wishes for a happy, healthy pregnancy.
Do you have any tips for people before they get pregnant? What type of advice did you receive before conceiving?