Planning Your Pregnancy
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Starting a family is a big step in a woman’s life and there are a lot of things to consider once you’ve decided to get pregnant. Like, are there things you can do to increase your odds of getting pregnant? How will pregnancy affect my health? What are the risks involved with pregnancy if I am obese or diabetic? Are there things I can do before I get pregnant to help me have a healthy pregnancy?
Before Getting Pregnant
Having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child doesn’t just depend on what you do while you’re pregnant but also how you prepare for your pregnancy.
Follow this checklist to get off to a great start:
- Get a checkup and discuss your medical history with your doctor. You may be predisposed to conditions that could affect your pregnancy or your ability to get pregnant.
- Find out what vaccinations to get now. There are some vaccinations that are recommended before you get pregnant and some are recommended after giving birth. Talk to your doctor about which ones to get and when.
- Begin taking a multivitamin with folic acid. Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid per day can help reduce the baby’s risk for birth defects of the brain and spinal cord called neural tube defects (NTDs). Folic acid also can be found in foods such as broccoli, peanuts, citrus fruits, and leafy vegetables, but most women don’t eat enough of these to get the recommended daily dose.
- Make healthier choices. Reach a healthy weight and make long-term dietary changes. If you’re underweight, overweight or obese, you’re at higher risk for developing serious conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes, and your baby is at higher risk for being born premature or with birth defects.
- Stop smoking, drinking and using drugs before you start trying to get pregnant. Alcohol, tobacco use and using illegal drugs can cause birth defects, complications during pregnancy, low birth weight babies, and learning and behavioral delays for your baby. Talk to your doctor before taking any prescription or over-the-counter drugs, or dietary or herbal supplements.
- Avoid exposure to dangerous substances, including synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, bug sprays, paint thinners or other solvents. These chemicals can increase your risk for miscarriage and birth defects. Also avoid contact with rodents (including pet hamsters, mice or guinea pigs) and cat feces – they can contain viruses or parasites that can hurt your baby.
- Limit your intake of certain foods. Make sure to fully cook your meats and fish and avoid fish with high mercury content as they can be dangerous to your unborn baby. High-mercury fish include swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish.
When to See a Doctor
The next step is to find an obstetrician. Many women wait until they are pregnant before choosing an obstetrician, but it’s sometimes easier if you choose one when you’re trying to get pregnant. This is especially important if you have any medical conditions, such as diabetes or depression. Even for women in good health, seeing an obstetrician early is helpful because your doctor can prescribe prenatal vitamins, get you current on immunizations, and help you if you’re having trouble getting pregnant.
If you don’t have an obstetrician, you need to find one as soon as the indicator on your home pregnancy test shows a positive sign. Prenatal care beginning at the earliest stages of pregnancy helps ensure the healthiest outcomes for you and your baby.
Expect the first appointment to take a little more time than a regular visit, so that your doctor can:
- do a complete physical exam
- talk to you about your family medical history
- take blood for testing
- do a pelvic exam and pap smear
- determine your baby’s due date
After the initial exam, you will see the doctor on a regular basis to check on the progress and health of both you and your baby. It’s very important to get these checkups, because according to the Department of Health and Human Services, a baby is five times more likely to die without prenatal care and three times more likely to be born at a low birth weight. Your doctor will talk to you about how often you should be scheduled for a prenatal visit, but they occur approximately:
- Once a month until week 28
- Every two weeks for weeks 28 – 36
- Every week after that until the baby is born
- Women who have preexisting health conditions or high-risk pregnancies may need to see their doctor more frequently.
During the pregnancy there will be many tests performed to help determine your risk for infections or complications. These tests include:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- RH factor and blood type
- Hepatitis screening
- Vaginal culture
- Chickenpox and rubella
- Antibody screening
- Thyroid test
Taking Medications During Pregnancy
Many over-the-counter medications and even dietary or herbal supplements can be harmful to your baby when taken during pregnancy. So for some common aches and pains, expectant mothers should be aware before taking any kind of medication. Talk to your doctor about what medications are safe for you to take while pregnant.
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