It’s never too early to start planning for pregnancy. Preconception health care focuses on things you can do before and between pregnancies to increase your chances of having a healthy baby.
Steps to take before family planningSteps to take before family planning
Make healthy food choices – It’s important to start making healthy food choices now and stocking up your fridge with food rich in nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy products, lean meat, fish, nuts and legumes. It is best if you can absorb a lot of protein, iron, calcium and folic acid from your diet. Try cutting down on junk food, fried food, chips and carbonated drinks.
Begin taking folic acid supplements – It is recommended to take at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid supplement a day for women who are planning to get pregnant. You should start taking the supplement for at least three months before you successfully conceive. Folic acid should be continued even after you have successfully conceived. It plays an important role to prevent birth defects of the central nervous system such as spina bifida.
Maintain a healthy weight – This is important to prepare you for the upcoming stress of pregnancy and raising a child. Being underweight can put a strain on your physical health during pregnancy, and may result in an undernourished baby with low birth weight. Being overweight not only makes it harder to conceive, but also increases the risk of complications during pregnancy such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and miscarriage. By ensuring regular physical activity during the preconception period, this will help ensure an easier labor process at the later stage due to better pelvic muscle strength.
Stop unhealthy behaviour – Unhealthy behaviour such as smoking and drinking alcohol will cause harm to your pregnancy and significantly increases the risk of premature birth, birth defects and infant death. You should stop these activities while you are planning to get pregnant, as even a small amount of these substances can affect fetal development in the early stages of pregnancy.
Consider preconception health screening – Getting a health screening targeted at your detailed family history, physical examination and laboratory testing for any hidden genetic diseases is essential during family planning. A good example will be thalassemia screening which can be done through a blood test for both males and females. We suggest that both you and your partner attend the health screening together in order to best assess your risk. If any genetic risk is detected, your pregnancy can then be monitored more closely by your gynaecologist for the safety of both you and your baby.
Get vaccinated to prevent infection during pregnancy – Maternal health is very important during a pregnancy. Some infections such as rubella and measles can harm your baby during pregnancy and cause long term complications. Fortunately, these infections can be prevented with MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination. MMR vaccination should be avoided once you are pregnant, so it is best to get it beforehand. Your yearly influenza vaccine shot is useful as well; particularly considering you do not want to fall sick once pregnant when there are limited medication options available.
Talk to your doctor if you have any long term medical conditions – If you are suffering from any long term medical conditions and are on medication for this, talk to your doctor to know which medications are safe to continue in pregnancy and make a shared decision regarding switching medications once you are pregnant if required. For example, some thyroid medications and blood pressure medications might not be suitable to be taken in pregnancy so planning in advance will be needed.
Last but not least, starting a family is an exciting event. Throughout your pregnancy, be sure to keep up all of your healthy habits and enjoy the journey of nurturing a new life!
For a full list of references, click here.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Planning for pregnancy. Retrieved on 25 May 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/preconception/planning.html