What is preconception health?
A woman’s health before conception is referred to as “preconception health.” It entails understanding how a woman’s health and risk factors may affect her unborn child if she becomes pregnant. Some foods, habits, and medicines, for example, can harm your baby even before he or she is born. Some medical conditions, such as diabetes, can have an impact on pregnancy.
Why is preconception health so important?
Whether or not she is considering a pregnancy, every woman should consider her health. One explanation for this is that around half of all pregnancies are unintended. Preterm birth and low birth weight kids are more likely in unplanned pregnancies. Another reason is that, despite significant advancements in medicine and prenatal care, approximately one out of every eight babies is born prematurely. Researchers are attempting to determine why preterm birth occurs and how to prevent it. Experts concur, however, that women should be in better health before becoming pregnant. By taking action on health conditions and hazards before pregnancy, you can prevent problems that can impact you or your baby afterwards.
Preconception planning: Is your body ready for pregnancy?
Preconception planning can assist you and your spouse in gaining a better understanding of how to increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy. What to expect during a preconception appointment is outlined below.
You may be mentally ready to have a baby if you’ve decided to get pregnant, but is your body?
Schedule a preconception appointment with your health care provider as soon as you start thinking about pregnancy to help ensure a safe pregnancy. If you’re in your 30s or 40s, or if you have any chronic health conditions or special concerns, you should schedule a preconception session. Consider the following questions about preconception planning.
What type of birth control have you been using?
If you’ve been using combination birth control pills, whether regular or extended cycle, your period should return within 30 days of discontinuing the pill. You don’t have to go without pills before trying to conceive.
If you had at least one normal period before conceiving, it will be a little easier to figure out when you ovulated and when your baby is due. Use condoms when your menstrual cycle returns to normal if you plan to wait a few months.
If you’ve been on long-term birth control, such as progestin injections, your fertility recovery could take a little longer. Despite this, 50% of women who stop taking progestin injections to become pregnant conceive within 10 months of stopping.
Are your vaccines current?
Infections like chickenpox (varicella) and German measles (rubella) can harm an unborn child. If you don’t have all of your vaccines or aren’t sure if you’re immune to specific viruses, preconception care may include blood tests to check for immunity or one or more vaccinations, which should be done at least one month before you try to conceive.
Do you have any chronic medical conditions?
If you have a chronic medical condition like diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure, make sure it’s under control before starting a family. Your health care provider may advise you to adjust your medication or other treatments before becoming pregnant in some cases. Your doctor will also explain any specific care you may require during your pregnancy.
Are you taking any medications or supplements?
Any drugs, herbs, or supplements you’re taking should be disclosed to your doctor. Depending on the product, your doctor may advise you to change doses, switch to something else, or stop using it altogether before getting pregnant.
It’s also a good idea to start taking folic acid at this time. The neural tube, which grows into the baby’s brain and spinal cord, forms during the first month of pregnancy, possibly before you even realize you’re expecting. Folic acid supplementation, which should begin three months before conception, helps to avoid neural tube abnormalities.
Are you at risk of a sexually transmitted infection?
Sexually transmitted illnesses, including gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, can make it difficult to get pregnant. During pregnancy, both the mother and the baby are at risk from these infections. Ask your health care provider about preconception screening and treatment if you’re at risk of a sexually transmitted infection—or if you suspect you or your partner may have one.
Do you have a family history of any specific medical conditions?
Your or your partner’s family medical history can raise the risk of having a child with certain medical disorders, such as cystic fibrosis or birth abnormalities. If you have concerns about genetic disorders, your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor for a preconception evaluation.
How old are you and your partner?
The likelihood of reproductive issues, pregnancy loss, and certain chromosomal disorders increases as maternal age rises. Some pregnancy-related problems are more common in older moms, such as gestational diabetes. The baby’s father’s age can also be a factor. Your doctor can help you put any dangers into perspective and devise a strategy for giving your baby the best possible start.
Have you been pregnant before?
Your doctor or nurse will inquire about past pregnancies. Any difficulties, such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, preterm labor, premature birth, birth abnormalities, or pregnancies that require a C-section, should be mentioned.
If you’ve had a prior pregnancy with a neural tube defect or if any of your first-degree relatives, such as siblings, were born with neural tube defects, your doctor will probably recommend a greater daily dose of folic acid than what’s included in most prenatal vitamins.
Share any concerns or fears you have about a future pregnancy with your healthcare practitioner. He or she will assist you in determining the best methods for increasing your chances of having a healthy pregnancy.
Does your current lifestyle support a healthy pregnancy?
Healthy lifestyle choices are critical throughout pregnancy. Consider the following scenario:
- Your health care practitioner will emphasize the benefits of a balanced diet, frequent exercise, and stress management.
- If you’re underweight or overweight, your doctor may advise you to lose weight before starting a family.
- It’s critical to stay away from alcohol and illegal or illicit drugs.
- If you smoke, ask your doctor about services to assist you in quitting.
- To discover potentially harmful exposures such as mercury, lead, or pesticides, your health care physician may inquire about your work, travel, pets, hobbies, and home environment.
If at all possible, bring your spouse to the preconception visit. The health and lifestyle of your partner are crucial since they can have an impact on both you and the kid.
The five most important things to boost your preconception health are:
Before being sexually active—or at least three months before becoming pregnant—women and men should prepare for pregnancy. Some actions, such as stopping smoking, achieving a healthy weight, or modifying your medications, should begin even sooner. The following are the five most important things you can do to improve your preconception health:
- If you are planning or capable of pregnancy, take 400 to 800 micrograms (400 to 800 mcg or 0.4 to 0.8 mg) of folic acid every day to reduce your chance of birth abnormalities of the brain and spine, such as spina bifida. Every day, all women require folic acid. Consult your physician about your folic acid requirements. Some experts recommend prenatal vitamins with a higher folic acid content.
2.Stop smoking and consuming alcoholic beverages.
3. Make sure any medical conditions you have are under control. Asthma, diabetes, oral health, obesity, and epilepsy are some of the disorders that might be influenced or be affected by pregnancy.
- Discuss any over-the-counter or prescription medications you’re taking with your doctor. Dietary and herbal supplements are examples of these. Make sure you’re up to date on your vaccines.
- At work and at home, avoid contact with harmful substances or materials that could cause infection. Chemicals and cat or rodent feces should be avoided.
Talk to your doctor before you become pregnant
Preconception care can help you get pregnant, have a healthy pregnancy, and give birth to a healthy baby. If you’re sexually active, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your preconception health. Preconception care should start at least three months before you try to conceive. However, some women require extra time to prepare their bodies for pregnancy. Make sure to bring up your partner’s health as well. Inquire with your doctor about:
- Birth control and family planning.
- Taking folic acid supplements.
- Vaccines and screenings, such as a Pap test and tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV.
- Managing medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, thyroid illness, obesity, depression, eating disorders, and asthma. Learn how pregnancy can influence or be affected by any health issues you may have.
- The pharmaceuticals and supplements you take, including over-the-counter, herbal, and prescription medications and supplements.
- Ways to improve your general health, such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, staying active, caring for your teeth and gums, decreasing stress, stopping smoking, and avoiding alcohol.
- How to stay healthy.
- Hazards at work or at home that could endanger you or your baby.
- You or your partner’s family has a history of health difficulties.
- Issues you’ve had with previous pregnancies, such as preterm birth.
- Family issues that may have an impact on your health, such as domestic abuse or a lack of support.
To ensure you don’t forget anything, bring a list of talking topics with you. If you run out of time during your initial visit, make an appointment for a follow-up to ensure that everything is covered.
Your partner’s role in preparing for pregnancy
Your partner can help you prepare for pregnancy in many ways by providing support and encouragement. Here are a few ideas:
- Make the pregnancy choice together. When both couples want to have a baby, a woman is more likely to obtain prenatal care early and avoid dangerous behaviors like smoking and drinking.
- Testing and treating sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can help ensure that infections do not spread to female partners.
- Male partners can improve their reproductive and overall health by limiting alcohol use, quitting smoking or using illegal drugs, eating well, and lowering stress. Men who drink heavily, smoke, or take drugs have sperm difficulties, according to studies. These could make it difficult for you to conceive. If your boyfriend refuses to give up smoking, request that he not smoke near you to avoid the hazardous effects of secondhand smoke.
- Your spouse should also discuss his own health, his family’s health history, and any medications he takes with his doctor.
- Those who work with chemicals or other toxins should avoid exposing women to them. People who work with fertilizers or pesticides, for example, should change out of their dirty clothes before approaching women. They should handle and wash soiled clothes separately.
Your baby’s health can be affected by the genes he or she is born with in the following ways:
- A defect in a single gene causes single gene diseases. The information that your body’s cells require to function is stored in your genes. Single-gene disorders are passed down via the generations. Cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia are examples of single gene illnesses.
- When all or part of a chromosome is missing or extra, or when the structure of one or more chromosomes is abnormal, chromosomal diseases arise. Genes are found on chromosomes, which are structures. The majority of chromosomal diseases affecting entire chromosomes do not run in families.
Before becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor about your and your partner’s family health histories. This information can assist your doctor in determining whether you have any hereditary concerns.
Your doctor may recommend that you speak with a genetic specialist based on your genetic risk factors. The following are some of the reasons a person or couple might seek genetic counseling:
- Two or more pregnancy losses, a stillbirth, or a baby who died
- A family history of a genetic problem, birth defect, chromosomal disorder, or cancer
- A woman who is pregnant or plans to become pregnant at 35 years or older
- Test results that suggest a genetic condition is present
- An increased risk of getting or passing on a genetic disorder due to one’s ethnic background
- A child with a known inherited disorder, birth defect, or intellectual disability.
- People who are connected by blood and want to start a family together
A genetics specialist meets with an individual or couple during a consultation to discuss genetic risks or to diagnose, confirm, or rule out a genetic problem. A couple may decide to undergo genetic testing. Some tests can assist couples in determining the likelihood of a person developing or passing on a genetic condition. A genetics expert can assist couples in determining whether genetic testing is the best option for them.