Maternal and paternal health before conception is vital to the health of your future baby. It’s important to optimize your health before conception in order to reduce the risk of health complications for both the mother and the child. The following guidelines can help you and your partner maximize your ability to conceive as well as identify any potential health risks before becoming pregnant.
Manage Pre-existing Chronic Health Conditions
If you are managing a chronic condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure (hypertension), speak with your doctor before conception or as soon as you know you’re pregnant. Chronic health conditions may further affect your health and may affect the health of your baby if not managed properly. For example, during the first 4-6 weeks in your pregnancy, high blood sugar levels can put your risk of having a child with a birth defect at as high as 30-40%. However, with proper monitoring and management, health complications related to chronic conditions can be avoided.
For the Soon-to-be-mother, Start Taking Folic Acid
Folic acid is an essential vitamin that aids in the development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. A lack of folic acid can result in birth defects of these organs, referred to as neural tube defects (NTD). Most birth defects occur during the first trimester. For this reason, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day starting at least one month before pregnancy and continuing to take this vitamin throughout pregnancy.
Do You Have a Family History of a Genetic Disorder? Consider Genetic Carrier Screening
If you have a history of a genetic disorder in your family, you may want to know your chances of having a child with that specific condition. To better plan your pregnancy or explore alternative conception options, it’s important to have as much information as possible. Genetic carrier screening is conducted using a blood draw from one or both partners. Results from this test will tell your doctor if you carry a gene associated with a specific genetic disorder.
If you or your partner are found to be a carrier, you may want to work with a genetic counselor to discuss your personal risk of having a child with a genetic condition. Doing this before conception gives couples the time to discuss their options regarding conception and plan for the arrival of their child.
If You Aren’t Already, Start Eating a Well-Rounded Diet and Exercising Regularly
Obesity during pregnancy has been proven to increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes in the mother and even stillbirth. Before conception, it’s important to quit smoking, reduce alcohol intake, and follow a healthy diet and exercise routine. Maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy will help reduce the risk of complications for both the mother and the fetus.
It’s important to communicate with your doctor and ask questions relating to your health and any medical conditions. It may take time to get used to any necessary lifestyle changes, so getting started early may give you time to fully incorporate any necessary changes into your daily routine well before pregnancy.