If you're planning to become pregnant, taking certain steps can help reduce risks for
both you and your baby. Proper health before deciding to become pregnant is almost
as important as maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.
The first few weeks of pregnancy are crucial in a child's development. However, many
women don't realize they're pregnant until several weeks after conception. Planning
ahead and taking care of yourself before becoming pregnant is the best thing you can
do for you and your baby.
One of the most important steps in helping you prepare for a healthy pregnancy is
a pre-pregnancy exam (often called preconception care) done by your healthcare provider
or a midwife before you become pregnant. This exam may include:
Family medical history. An assessment of the maternal and paternal medical history will help determine if
any family member has had any medical conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes,
or intellectual disability.
Genetic testing. An assessment of any possible genetic disorders—as several genetic disorders may be
inherited, like sickle cell anemia (a serious blood disorder that primarily happens
in African Americans), or Tay-Sachs disease (a nerve breakdown disorder marked by
progressive intellectual and developmental disabilities that primarily happens in
people of Eastern European Jewish origin). Some genetic disorders can be found by
blood tests before pregnancy.
Personal medical history. An assessment of the woman's personal medical history will determine if there are
any of the following:
Medical conditions that may need special care during pregnancy—like epilepsy, diabetes,
high blood pressure, anemia, or allergies
Vaccine status. An assessment of current vaccines will assess a woman's immunity to rubella (German
measles), in particular, since getting this disease during pregnancy can cause miscarriage
or birth defects. If a woman isn't immune, a vaccine may be given at least 1 month
before conception to provide immunity.
Infection screening. An infection screening will determine if a woman has a sexually transmitted infection
or urinary tract infection (or the person was symptomatic or had risk factors) that
could be harmful to the fetus and to the mother.
Other steps that can help reduce the risk of complications and help prepare for a
healthy pregnancy and delivery include:
Smoking cessation. If you're a smoker, stop smoking now. Studies have shown that babies born to mothers
who smoke tend to be born prematurely, be lower in birth weight, and are more likely
to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In addition, women with exposure to
secondhand smoke are more likely to have low-birth-weight babies. There may also be
dangers from thirdhand smoke, the chemicals, particles, and gases of tobacco that
are left on hair, clothing, and furnishings.
Proper diet. Eating a balanced diet before and during pregnancy isn't only good for the mother's
overall health, but essential for nourishing the fetus.
Proper weight and exercise. It's important to exercise regularly and maintain a proper weight before and during
pregnancy. Women who are overweight may experience medical problems, like high blood
pressure and diabetes. Women who are underweight may have babies with low birth weight.
Medical management (of pre-existing conditions). Before getting pregnant, take control of any current or pre-existing medical problems,
like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Preventing birth defects. Take 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day, a nutrient found in some green
leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some
vitamin supplements. Folic acid can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain
and spinal cord (also called neural tube defects).
Avoid exposure to alcohol and drugs during pregnancy. In addition, be sure to tell
your healthcare provider of any medicines (prescription and over-the-counter) you're
currently taking—all may have negative effects on the developing fetus.
Exposure to harmful substances. Pregnant women should avoid exposure to toxic and chemical substances (like lead and
pesticides), and radiation (like X-rays). Exposure to high levels of some types of
radiation and some chemical and toxic substances may negatively affect the developing
Infection control. Pregnant women should avoid the ingestion of undercooked meat and raw eggs. In addition,
pregnant women should avoid all contact and exposure to cat feces and cat litter,
which may contain a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that causes toxoplasmosis. Other
sources of infection include insects (for instance, flies) that have been in contact
with cat feces and should be avoided during pregnancy. Toxoplasmosis can cause a serious
illness in, or death of, the fetus. A pregnant woman can reduce her risk for infection
by avoiding all potential sources of the infection. A blood test before or during
pregnancy can determine if a woman has been exposed to the Toxoplasma gondii parasite.
Daily vitamins. Begin taking a prenatal vitamin daily, prescribed by your healthcare provider or a
midwife to make certain that your body gets all the necessary nutrients and vitamins
needed to nourish a healthy baby.
Identifying domestic violence. Women who are abused before pregnancy may be at risk for increased abuse during pregnancy.
Your healthcare provider or a midwife can help you find community, social, and legal
resources to help you deal with domestic violence.