If you have decided that you want to try to get pregnant, you should consider whether or not your body is ready for pregnancy. The healthier you are before trying to conceive, the more likely you are to get pregnant and the less likely you are to have complications during pregnancy. So, before you try to conceive, you should consider your preconception health and the steps you may need to take to get your body ready for pregnancy.
What is Preconception Health?
Preconception health is the term used to describe a person’s health before they conceive a child. The Office on Women’s Health has more information on what preconception health is and why it’s important, but in short, optimizing your preconception health will improve your chances of successfully getting pregnant. Factors used to assess preconception health apply to both men and women, but we are going to focus on the biologically female partner and how she knows if her body is ready for pregnancy.
To determine whether or not a woman is physically prepared to conceive and carry a child, she should have a preconception checkup with her obstetrician.
What is a Preconception Checkup?
A preconception checkup will inform you and your doctor of the state of your overall health and wellness before pregnancy. The preconception checkup will include:
- Detailed Personal and Family History: During any thorough checkup, your doctor should obtain a detailed history of both your personal health and that of your family. A preconception checkup is no different and your doctor should know about past health conditions you have had and any conditions that have the possibility of being passed on genetically. Also, heredity comes into play with certain pregnancy complications.
- Preventative Screenings and Physical Exam: You can’t know if your body is ready for pregnancy until you have been cleared of certain health conditions. This is especially true of infectious diseases that can cause birth defects or be passed on to the baby during pregnancy. You will be given a full physical examination including a pap smear and pelvic exam. Blood tests are often recommended to screen for STDs and other conditions.
- Management of Chronic Health Conditions: If you have a chronic health problem, your doctor should talk to you about properly managing it before you get pregnant. Not all chronic health conditions will preclude you from having a healthy pregnancy, but you need to have these conditions under control to safely carry a child. Some of the chronic health conditions that can affect pregnancy include high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, lupus and other autoimmune disorders.
- Checking Your Weight: Weight is a big factor that affects your overall health and also your fertility. If you weigh too much or too little, you may not only find it more difficult to conceive, but if you do, your risk of complications increases. Because it is not recommended to lose weight during pregnancy, an assessment of your current weight in relation to your recommended healthy weight is very important before you start trying to conceive.
- Checking Your Vaccination Status: Your doctor will make sure your vaccinations for diseases like hepatitis B, mumps, measles, rubella, and chickenpox are up to date. These diseases can cause birth defects when contracted while pregnant, so the doctor will recommend that you get these vaccines or any necessary booster doses.
- Evaluation of Current Medications: Some medications are linked to particular birth defects, so before you start trying to get pregnant, your doctor should counsel you on whether you should stop taking certain medications, provide recommendations for alternatives, and advise you on how to safely discontinue those medications.
- Counseling About Recommended Supplements: Certain vitamins and minerals become more important during pregnancy. The most common of these vitamins is folic acid. Your doctor will talk to you about getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day and can recommend the right vitamins and supplements to help get your body ready for pregnancy.
What Steps Can You Take to Get Your Body Ready for Pregnancy?
Based on the results of your preconception checkup, your doctor may recommend different things to get your body ready for pregnancy. You should familiarize yourself with these guidelines because most of them will apply after you’re pregnant as well.
- Quit smoking: Smoking can disrupt fertility and make it harder to get pregnant. Smoking has also been shown to shorten a woman’s reproductive window. Lastly, and just as importantly, smoking can cause birth defects and because you may not know you are pregnant right away, you should quit before even trying to conceive.
- Stop or limit alcohol consumption: There is no scientific evidence of any amount of alcohol being safe for a fetus. Therefore, alcohol intake should be limited when trying to get pregnant, if not stopped altogether.
- Limit caffeine consumption: If you’re trying to get pregnant, you don’t necessarily have to give up your morning pick-me-up, but you should limit intake to about 200 mg, which is what is found in the average 12 oz serving of coffee.
- Get to a healthy weight: As discussed above, your weight can affect your health and fertility in many ways. Being overweight increases the risks of pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, birth defects, and the need for a C-section. Being underweight can pose developmental risks to the child as well. Once you are pregnant, you should not be losing weight, so starting at a healthy weight to get your body ready for pregnancy is crucial.
- Exercise regularly: Find a brisk exercise regimen and do it at least five days a week. If you already have a routine, then you should be able to continue it through pregnancy. If you are just starting to regularly exercise, still aim for at least 30 minutes each time you do it. You should consult your healthcare professional about the right kind and amount of exercise is good for you in particular.
- Eat a balanced and healthy diet: Focus on whole foods, and use fresh ingredients when possible. Avoid eating too much processed and pre-packaged food that may have artificial ingredients and preservatives. You can ask your doctor for a list of specific foods to focus on and avoid during pregnancy and start making those dietary changes in advance.
- Take a Prenatal Vitamin or Folic Acid Supplement: Folic acid is a critical part of a baby’s neurological development and is important to healthy development from the start. Therefore, you should increase your intake as soon as you start trying to conceive so you are getting enough even before you know you’re pregnant. Always consult a licensed healthcare professional before taking any new supplements or medications, even those that are available over the counter. Too much of certain vitamins and minerals can actually be harmful to your health.
Carolinas Fertility Institute has decades of experience helping the people of North Carolina build the family they desire. We offer personalized care to make the fertility journey as stress-free as possible for our patients. If you have questions or concerns about fertility issues, including whether or not your body is ready for pregnancy, our team is here to help. To make an appointment, please call (336) 448.9100 or fill out our appointment request form.