Plan Ahead for a Healthy Baby
The most important time in a babyís development occurs during the first weeks of pregnancy, a time when many women do not know they are pregnant.
Preconception health is preparing physically and emotionally before becoming pregnant to increase your chances of having a healthy baby.
Preconception health takes planning. Talk with your health care provider about your health before you plan to become pregnant. There are many steps you can take to increase your chances of having a healthy baby, including:
- Before you try to get pregnant, get a check up and talk to your health care provider about your health history, pregnancy history and anything else you think may affect your pregnancy. Ask your health care provider about when you should stop using birth control, especially if you are using hormonal birth control (pills, patch, vaginal ring, shots). Donít hesitate to ask questions!
- Plan enough time between pregnancies so your body can recover and rebuild the nutrients it needs. When births are spaced at least 18-23 months apart there is less risk of the baby being born too early (premature) or low birthweight. Pregnancies too close together can also be harmful to the motherís health.
- Most women over age 35 have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. However, studies do show that older mothers face special risks. Women over age 35 may have more problems getting pregnant, may have more complications during pregnancy, and have an increased risk of some types of birth defects. Talk with your health care provider before you plan to get pregnant.
- Begin prenatal care as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. Many studies have shown that early and regular prenatal care is important for the health of both mothers and babies. If you think you may be pregnant, get a pregnancy tests and exam as soon as possible---within the first two weeks after missing your period if possible. If your period is abnormal or you have any symptoms of pregnancy, get a test right away.
- Get health problems under control. Talk with your health care provider if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, epilepsy, heart, kidney, or thyroid disease, infections, hepatitis, anemia, or other health conditions that might affect you and your baby.
- Update your immunizations. Itís especially important to make sure you are immune to rubella, chickenpox, and hepatitis B. If you are not up to date, make sure you get the necessary immunizations before you want to become pregnant.
- Make healthy eating a top priority. Healthy eating means a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables, calcium rich low-fat dairy products (such as low-fat milk and yogurt), whole grains (such as whole wheat bread and pasta) and high-protein foods (such as lean meats, and beans).
- Try to get to and maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight range is based on a measurement known as the Body Mass Index (BMI). You can find out what your BMI is if you know your weight and height. Your BMI before pregnancy or at the time you become pregnant can affect your pregnancy and delivery, as well as your infantís health. Healthy eating and being physically active are keys to staying at a healthy weight. Check with your health care provider about your BMI and tips for eating healthy and being active.
- Get 400 micrograms (0.4mg) of
folic acid daily from foods rich in folic acid (such as dark green leafy greens, and legumes), foods fortified with folic acid (such as enriched grain products, breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, and rice), a vitamin, or a folic acid pill. Folic acid, a B vitamin needed for proper cell growth, taken for several months before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the spine and brain (spina bifida and anencephaly).
- Stop or reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine sources include coffee, colas, chocolate and some prescription or over the counter drugs.
- Begin or continue to be active on a regular basis. Regular physical activity can help you feel good and lower stress, stay at a healthy weight, and lower risk of chronic diseases.
- Get enough sleep. Try 7 to 9 hours every night.
- Reduce stress if you can. Set limits for yourself and others. Stress can prevent you from taking care of yourself the way you should and can be harmful to the baby. Get help if there is violence or abuse in your life, or high levels of stress. Make sure you have enough personal support.
- Get a dental check up. Regular visits to the dentist, along with good nutrition, and brushing and flossing habits are a part of being healthy and staying well. We also know that there may be a connection between gum infection and having a baby born too early or at low birth weight. You may need to visit the dentist more often during pregnancy. Be sure to tell your doctor you are pregnant before getting dental health services.
- Get tested for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV since these can harm both you and your baby.
- Go over all the medicines you take (prescription and over-the-counter including herbal supplements or remedies) with your health care provider and ask if they are safe to take while you are pregnant. Avoid mega-doses of anything, including vitamins.
- Find out what health problems run in your family or the family of the babyís father. Talk to your health care provider. You can get tested before pregnancy for some health problems that run in families (genetic testing).
- Talk with your healthcare provider about exposure to hazards (certain chemicals and other factors) at home and work that could cause birth defects.
- Avoid harmful substances and second hand smoke. Using tobacco, alcohol and other drugs can have harmful effects during pregnancy and can cause your baby to be born too small or too soon. Quitting is hard, but you can do it. There are places that can help. If you want to stop smoking, call the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line, 1-877-270-STOP (7868). Give yourself time to quit before you get pregnant.
- Ask your partner to stay healthy too. Ask your partner to limit alcohol intake and to quit smoking or using illegal drugs.
- Preconception Health Paper
for Health Care Providers
- This paper provides health care professionals with guidance on key health
components to discuss with women of child-bearing age prior to conception.
Optimizing maternal health prior to conception reduces the risk of poor
birth outcomes, and potentially other health problems in their children.
- Preconception Nutrition Position Paper 2006
- This paper explains the Georgia Department of Public Health, Nutrition Section’s stance on the importance of assessing nutrition status, and making necessary changes prior to conception. Preconception nutrition is one of a number of important preconception health topics women of child-bearing age should be informed about prior to pregnancy.