While you may think of pregnancy as a nine-month process, it's important to remember that your health even before you conceive is important. Here are some key first steps:
Find a doctor
If you don't already have an obstetrician (OB), it's time to find one. An obstetrician can help make sure you are healthy enough to get pregnant and then monitor your pregnancy and deliver your baby. Consider these tips for finding a doctor:
- Ask a close friend or family member if she would recommend her OB.
- Ask your gynecologist (who may not be an OB) or your primary care doctor for a referral.
- Search Parker Adventist Hospital's online physician directory, or call 303-777-6877. Plus read Choosing an OB checklist to help guide you in this important decision.
Get a physical
Before you get pregnant, schedule a physical with your physician and let him or her know you plan to conceive. Some medical conditions can affect your pregnancy, and your doctor can help identify the ones you may need to monitor. Plus, this is a good time to get a picture of your current health so changes that occur during pregnancy are easy to spot (and treat, if necessary).
Your doctor will likely check for:
- Reproductive health. A Pap test can reveal diseases like cervical dysplasia or STDs, which need to be treated before you conceive.
- Immunity to measles and chicken pox. If you are not immune, your doctor may recommend vaccinations before you try to conceive.
- Various health conditions. Health issues like high blood pressure or anemia can affect your pregnancy. Learn more below.
- Blood type. Your doctor will test for the Rh factor, a protein in red blood cells. When the baby's mother does not have the protein and the father does, the baby can inherit it. If the baby's blood is Rh-positive and the mother's blood is not, problems can result. Fortunately, medication can help prevent complications.
Monitor your pre-pregnancy health conditions
Some health conditions can affect your ability to conceive and the health of your pregnancy and baby. It's important to understand how your current physical, emotional and mental health might affect your pregnancy and what steps you might need to take during pregnancy to reduce risks. Some conditions that need to be closely monitored during pregnancy include:
Anemia. Anemia typically results from a lack of iron and can lead to weakness and fatigue. During pregnancy, your body needs even more iron than usual because the amount of blood in your body is increasing. If you are anemic before conception, your doctor may recommend dietary changes or vitamin supplements.
Diabetes. It is important for women with diabetes to make sure their condition is well controlled. By keeping your blood sugar in check, you reduce the risks of miscarriage, pre-term birth, congenital anomalies and birth defects, which are all concerns for pregnant women with diabetes.
High blood pressure. It is possible to have a healthy baby even if you have high blood pressure, but the condition increases risks during pregnancy. These risks include damage to the mother's kidneys and other organs, low birth weight and early delivery. In extreme situations, the mother can develop preeclampsia, which affects approximately 5 percent to 8 percent of all pregnancies and can be life-threatening to both mom and baby. (Source: Preeclampsia Foundation 4/10)
Thyroid problems. An overactive thyroid can lead to premature birth or a low-birth-weight baby, and an underactive thyroid can cause infertility or miscarriage. Both conditions are treatable but need to be identified through a blood test prior to conception, if possible.
Check your immunization record
First, make sure your adult immunizations are up-to-date. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also notes that if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, your age, lifestyle and other conditions will determine if you need additional vaccines. Visit the CDC to learn more about which vaccines you might need. For some vaccines, you'll need to wait at least four weeks before trying to conceive.
In addition, the flu can cause complications during pregnancy, so make sure you get your flu shot if you are trying to conceive or plan to become pregnant in the next year. And don't forget to protect yourself against H1N1, too. Health studies have shown that pregnant women are at greater risk of catching H1N1 and suffering serious side-effects; and the vaccine does not harm you or your baby.
Review Your Medications
Before you plan to conceive, you will obviously want to stop taking any birth control medications - stop taking the pill about three months before trying to conceive. Your doctor can explain any changes you might notice when you go off the medication.
If you are taking medications for conditions such as depression, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy or other conditions, talk to your doctor about your plans to become pregnant. Do not stop taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs on your own. Your doctor will help make sure your medications are safe or prescribe alternatives that are healthier for pregnant women.
This is also the time to talk to your doctor about any vitamins or supplements you are taking. Some herbs that are believed safe for most adults may be considered unsafe for pregnant women. For example, Blue Cohosh can induce labor, and several others are considered unsafe during pregnancy. When taken orally, Ginseng and Evening Primrose are considered "possibly unsafe." Your doctor can help you determine which, if any, herbal supplements you should continue.