9 things to do before you get pregnant

There are changes you should make even before you conceive to give that baby the best possible healthy start.

Photo: iStockphoto

Getting pregnant is a big step. And while you may be thinking a lot about how a baby will change your life, you might not realize there may be changes you should make even before you even get pregnant to give that baby the best possible healthy start. It’s important to look after your own health too, and starting now will set you on the right path for pregnancy and beyond.

Check your weight and the quality of your diet. Women who are under- or overweight may have difficulty conceiving and are at higher risk for certain pregnancy complications. This is not a time for crash diets or stuffing yourself with junk – you and your baby need healthy food! If you have a history of eating disorders, major weight issues or significant food restrictions because of allergies, intolerances or your beliefs, you may want to consult a dietitian for advice.

Start taking a daily prenatal vitamin with folic acid as soon as you start trying to become pregnant. Most drugstores carry at least a couple of different formulations, and all are safe – but talk to a pharmacist or health-care practitioner if you’d like advice. If you currently use other vitamins or herbal supplements, stop taking them until you can discuss their safety with your doctor.

Clean up your act. You’re probably already planning to quit smoking and avoid alcohol once you’re pregnant, but do your baby a favour and start now. You want to plant that fertilized egg in a body that’s already as healthy as it can be.

Smoking has been shown to decrease fertility and increase the chances of having a small-birthweight or premature baby, not to mention increase your baby’s chances of a number of health risks after he is born. It takes a while to “clear” the residue built up from smoking in your system, so the sooner you quit, the better. If your partner will quit with you, all the better: Smoking can affect the quality of his sperm. Avoid second-hand smoke whenever possible, too.

If you drink, it’s a good idea to stop or at least cut back to light drinking.
If you or your partner use recreational drugs, you should definitely stop before becoming pregnant. Regular use of marijuana carries similar risks to tobacco smoking, including reduced fertility. And THC, the chemical in pot that gets you high, can cross the placenta and affect your unborn baby. Harder drugs have more serious risks.

See your doctor. You may want to book a preconception appointment before getting pregnant for a full physical exam, including a pap test and lab tests to check for things like whether you have immunity to rubella and chicken pox (varicella); you’ll get a vaccination if needed. You’ll also be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Make sure to discuss any medications you are taking to ensure they are safe to continue during pregnancy, and any environmental hazards you might be exposed to in your workplace.

If there is a history in your family of serious genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or Tay-Sachs, your doctor may offer you a referral to a genetic counsellor and/or for genetic testing to help you understand the chances of having a baby born with one of these conditions. (There are also screening tests available to everyone during early pregnancy to estimate your risk of having a baby with genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome.)

If you have a chronic illness like diabetes or epilepsy, it’s very important to discuss your pregnancy plans with your specialist. In some cases your medication may need to be adjusted or your treatment plan altered, and you may need to be monitored carefully throughout your pregnancy.

Thinking ahead to parenthood

    • Talk it out. You and your partner have agreed you’d like to have a baby. But have you really considered what that will mean – to your relationship, to your lifestyle, to your future? It’s impossible to anticipate exactly what parenthood will be like, but it’s important to be sure you are starting out on the same page. A heart-to-heart talk – or a few – will give you each a chance to explore your hopes, fears and expectations. What kind of parent do you see yourself becoming? How will you share baby care and the increased household workload? What kind of parenting did you have, and what elements of this do you want to give your child – or avoid? Are you ready to face the stresses and challenges a baby brings?
    • Explore your prenatal care options. In some areas of the country, there are fewer doctors providing obstetrical care, so you’ll want to look at your options early. This is even more important if you are interested in a midwife’s care, since in provinces where midwifery is licensed there are not yet enough midwives to meet the demand. Find out what’s available in your community – you may want to ask if you can pre-book to save a spot with your preferred prenatal care provider.

So now, how often should you actually do it?

For the best chance of conceiving, experts suggest having sex every two days during your fertile period. Surprisingly, more is not better (at least not for conception): The day of rest allows the sperm count to build up again. It doesn’t really matter what position you use, but it’s not a bad idea to lie down for awhile after intercourse, so the sperm don’t have to battle gravity to get to the cervix.

Read more:
Fertility and conception tips>
5 reasons you’re not getting pregnant>
How much do you know about making a baby?>

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