Pre-Pregnancy Health at a Glance
- Good nutrition, exercise, and healthy lifestyle choices are important before and during pregnancy
- Schedule a visit with a health care provider before getting pregnant
- Look for a prenatal care provider before your pregnancy
All women thinking about getting pregnant want to have the healthiest pregnancies possible. One way to have the best pregnancy you can have is by planning for it ahead of time. If you are planning to become pregnant, it is a good idea to start making some changes as if you already were pregnant. You may benefit from changing your diet or lifestyle habits.
Doing your best to keep yourself healthy before and during pregnancy will help you to be more prepared to handle the changes that come with being pregnant. Here are some questions we hear women ask when thinking about getting pregnant. We hope you find the answers helpful.
Should I Visit a Health Care Provider Before Getting Pregnant?
Many women and their partners can benefit from talking to a health care provider about their plan to become pregnant. A health care provider can tell you about any tests that you may want or need, as well as any lifestyle or diet changes that you may want to make. These kinds of appointments are sometimes called pre-conception or pre-pregnancy planning visits.
At a pre-pregnancy visit, your health care provider will take your medical history. Your provider may also ask about the potential father's medical history. This checkup may also include an overall physical exam, Pap test and pelvic exam and blood and urine tests.
Pre-pregnancy visits especially benefit women with certain conditions that can make a pregnancy more difficult. Make sure to schedule a pre-pregnancy visit if you
- have heart or kidney disease, high blood pressure or other chronic conditions such as diabetes, lupus, or HIV/AIDS
- have a history of unexplained stillbirths, miscarriage, or have had other children born prematurely
- know you are at personal risk of having a child with birth defects or a genetic disorder
- have or have had a sexually transmitted infection
- have a weight problem or a history of eating disorders
- are older than 35
Thinking about getting pregnant?
Do I Need to Change What or How Much I Eat?
Once you become pregnant, you will need to eat about 100–300 more calories per day. If your weight falls within a normal range, you should gain no more than 35 pounds by the end of the pregnancy. If you have trouble keeping a healthy weight, this may be different for you.
Before you get pregnant, it's a good idea to try to eat healthy foods so that you are as healthy as possible. Many of us know of ways we could improve our diet. But we also know how hard it can be to change what and how much we eat.
It can make it easier to begin by first adding more healthy foods into your diet before taking away unhealthy foods. Start by adding more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. This will put you on the right track toward a more balanced diet that contains
- A little more than half of what we eat should be carbohydrates (carbs). Try to get most of your carbs from whole grains, like whole grain bread and brown rice. Avoid sugary foods and drinks like candy and soda.
- Protein helps the fetus grow. Protein is found in meat and dairy products as well as tofu and beans. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you can still have a healthy pregnancy. But talk to your health care provider to make sure you are getting enough protein.
- Fats help us absorb vitamins. Most of us get enough fat in our diet. It is important during pregnancy to get fat from fish and vegetable sources.
- You can get fiber through fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Have at least 3–5 servings per day. Many women experience constipation when they are pregnant. Eating fiber can help you avoid constipation.
Do I Need Extra Vitamins?
Yes. One of the most important changes you should make in your diet is adding more foods that contain folic acid — a type of vitamin B. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects in the brain and spinal cord if taken before pregnancy and very early in pregnancy. Folic acid is found in
- leafy, green vegetables
- fortified breakfast cereals
But it's often difficult for women to get enough folic acid and other vitamins from food alone. Taking a multivitamin will help you to get folic acid and other vitamins that are important before and during pregnancy. Beware that it is possible to get too much of some vitamins and minerals during pregnancy. For example, too much vitamin A can cause birth defects. Health care providers often prescribe a prenatal vitamin for women to take before and during pregnancy to make sure they get the right amount of vitamins.
Do I Need to Change My Lifestyle?
Some of the most important changes you make before and during pregnancy have to do with exercise, smoking, using drugs or alcohol, reducing stress, and making sure you are safe at work. Changing certain habits can be stressful, so it may be easier to start now, rather than waiting until you are pregnant.
Exercise will make you feel better and give you more energy. It can help to make you stronger and better able to handle delivery.
If you do not exercise now, talk to your health care provider about the best way to start. Many women enjoy walking, swimming, yoga, and other moderate exercise while pregnant. And most women can continue moderate exercise throughout their pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider about what type of exercise is right for you.
Quitting smoking is a lifestyle change that can help everyone —women and men — improve their health. Many women are especially motivated to quit smoking when planning a pregnancy. There are many reasons to stop smoking before becoming pregnant.
Women who smoke
- take longer to get pregnant than nonsmokers
- have higher rates of miscarriage than nonsmokers
- expose the growing fetus to dangerous chemicals
- are more likely to have low birth weight babies with serious health problems
If you need help to quit smoking … Many Planned Parenthood health centers sponsor smoking cessation programs. You can also talk to your health care provider,or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
Remember, "passive smoking," or breathing secondhand smoke, can also have negative effects on pregnancy. If you live with someone who smokes, ask him or her to smoke outside.
STOP DRINKING ALCOHOL.
Most health care providers tell women not to drink at all during pregnancy. There is no known safe amount you can drink during pregnancy. There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy.
Women who drink put their babies at risk for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which can cause serious physical and developmental harm.
It is a good idea to cut down or stop drinking alcohol around the time you are trying to get pregnant. This is because you will not know right away that you are pregnant.
If you need help to stop drinking alcohol … Talk to your health care provider or find help in your local area by visiting Alcoholics Anonymous.
DON'T ABUSE DRUGS OR PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS.
Using addictive or habit-forming illegal drugs such as cocaine, crack, heroin, crystal meth, LSD, and marijuana can cause serious problems for a developing fetus.
Legal prescription drugs can also be addictive and cause harm during pregnancy. You should check with your health care provider before taking any medications.
If you need help to stop using drugs … Talk to your health care provider or contact a local self-help program in your area, such as Narcotics Anonymous.
REDUCE STRESS AND AVOID DANGERS.
Get plenty of rest and relaxation. Be sure to take the time to do things that you enjoy and that relax you. Enjoy your sexuality, too. Having sex can help reduce stress and the tensions that can build up when planning for and during a pregnancy. Most women who want to are able to enjoy sex throughout pregnancy.
Beware of dangers on the job. Some jobs may be harmful before and during pregnancy. Talk with your boss and health care provider to figure out how you can avoid dangerous substances and situations, such as standing too long or working too many hours in a row. Try to find ways to reduce job stress, too.
What is a Man
If you are planning a pregnancy with a male partner, his health is also important. There are things that can cause his sperm count to be low and affect the quality of semen. Low sperm count can make it difficult to get pregnant.
Some habits that can affect sperm count include
- drinking alcohol
- smoking or other tobacco use
- using steroids
- using illegal drugs
- using certain prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines
- using saunas, hot tubs, or whirlpools over 102° F
- having an unhealthy diet
Talk to your partner about making lifestyle choices that can increase his health and help you and your future pregnancy.
Do I Need a New Health Care Provider During Pregnancy?
Now is also a good time to begin looking for a health care provider who you will see for prenatal care once you become pregnant.
You may want to continue to see your current gynecologist or family doctor throughout your pregnancy. Or you may want to find a new health care provider for your prenatal care. Ask people you trust —friends, family members, health care providers — for recommendations for doctors or midwives.
It is most important that you feel comfortable talking freely about what kind of pregnancy and birth you want to have. Feel free to interview any health care provider that you want to help with your pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Do not be afraid to change providers if you do not feel comfortable.
Find Dr. Cullins' Answers to Common Sexual Health Questions
Q&A with Dr. Cullins