A healthy pregnancy starts with your own healthy body. If you’re planning to conceive in the near future, there’s no time like the present to focus on your health and prepare your body to create another life. Doing so will boost your chances of having a healthy baby. Here’s a checklist of important things to do when preparing for pregnancy.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A well-rounded diet focused on lean proteins, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables is ideal. The Mediterranean diet is a great example. It favors eating lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fish, with desserts and treats reserved for special occasions. This eating pattern has long-term health benefits and may increase your chances of getting pregnant, according to an April 2018 review on diet and fertility published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
You might start by adding a few servings of fruits and vegetables and a handful of nuts or some avocado for healthy fats each day. Then, work on incorporating two to three 4-ounce servings of fish each week. Adding in healthy foods is an easier way to improve your diet than eliminating foods.
One note: Fish provides protein, omega-3 fats, and other important nutrients. But women who are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, should avoid eating fish high in mercury like tuna, swordfish, orange roughy, tilefish, king mackerel, marlin, and shark. Better choices include salmon, Atlantic mackerel, cod, haddock, sardines, and sole.
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Start a Prenatal Supplement
Compared to most regular multivitamins, prenatal vitamins are higher in key nutrients that mom and baby need, like folic acid, iron, vitamin D, and calcium. Starting one now is a good way to “fill up your tank” before you conceive. During pregnancy, you’ll be supplying vitamins and minerals for yourself and your baby. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that taking prenatal vitamins may reduce your risk of miscarriage.
Folic acid is especially important, as it can prevent a birth defect called spina bifida. The March of Dimes recommends getting 400 micrograms of folic acid starting at least one month before pregnancy, and for at least the first 12 weeks after you conceive. Iron is essential for making the extra blood your body will need to carry oxygen and nutrients to your baby. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for strong bones for both you and your baby.
Some prenatal vitamins also contain DHA (an essential fat) and choline, both of which are beneficial for baby’s brain and eye health.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you need to lose (or gain) weight, do it before you get pregnant. A healthy weight improve your chances of conception. And having a body mass index (BMI) in the normal range (18.5 to 24.9) when you get pregnant is linked with fewer complications for both you and the baby.
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Break Up With Harmful Habits
Cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drugs can cause permanent growth and brain damage to your baby. If you’re using any of these, now is the time to stop. And try to limit caffeine to less than 200 milligrams per day — that’s about one 12-ounce cup of coffee.
Pregnant women are at an increased risk for listeriosis, a foodborne illness. Find out which foods carry the highest risk. If you take precautions now, they will be second nature once you’re pregnant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women:
- Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and soft cheeses made from raw milk
- Avoid raw sprouts (mung bean, alfalfa, etc)
- Avoid refrigerated pate, meat spreads, or smoked fish from the deli
- Heat hot dogs or deli meats to 165°F before eating them
- Refrigerate any sliced melon and eat it within seven days
Exercise strengthens your heart, lungs, and entire body. If you’re in the habit of exercising regularly before you conceive, it will be easier to maintain the habit during pregnancy. Moderate exercise throughout pregnancy reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, postpartum depression, and excess weight gain. Aim for at least 30 minutes, five days per week.
Visit Your Health Care Provider
Make sure you’re up to date on immunizations and get screened for any sexually transmitted diseases and preexisting health conditions. Your primary health care provider also can review any family or genetic history that may affect your pregnancy.
Planning for a baby is a big deal. To ensure you’re as healthy as possible, include your gynecologist, midwife, or primary health care provider on your team.
American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Diet and Fertility: A Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5826784/
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Advice About Eating Fish. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Prepregnancy Counseling. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2019/01/prepregnancy-counseling
March of Dimes. Vitamins and Other Nutrients During Pregnancy. https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/vitamins-and-other-nutrients-during-pregnancy.aspx#
Nutrients. Choline and DHA in Maternal and Infant Nutrition: Synergistic Implications in Brain and Eye Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566660/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent Infections During Pregnancy. https://www.cdc.gov/features/prenatalinfections/index.html
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Benefits of Physical Activity During Pregnancy and Postpartum: An Umbrella Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31095086
For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long renowned for its services to women and babies, but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and the hospital’s NICU is one of the largest in the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.