Want to learn how to prepare for pregnancy? Your health and environment will affect how your baby grows and develops. Getting your body ready for pregnancy can really give baby the best start to life.
Stork Mama have developed this complete guide to improve your chances of conceiving quickly and having a healthy pregnancy. We’ve identified the areas of your life which will have the greatest effect on your pregnancy. It’s a lot of reading so you may want to bookmark it for reference. Let’s get you pregnancy ready.
How to Prepare for Pregnancy
1. Know Your History
A caregiver can work out your ‘risk factors’ for pregnancy based on your medical history. Having a good insight will help plan your care and prepare you for possible pregnancy complications. The areas of interest are:
You will be asked if you’ve been pregnant before and the result of these pregnancies. This will often include sensitive information such as miscarriage or terminations. If you have already had a baby you will be asked:
- how many births?
- did you carry to term (37 weeks)?
- any multiple births?
- any complications in pregnancy, birth or postnatal?
Your gynecological history is also important. Previous surgery, investigations or smear test results can all affect your pregnancy care.
Both you and your partner’s family history will be of interest. Some conditions are hereditary and can complicate your pregnancy. You may want to discuss any family health history with your parents. If you are using donor eggs or sperm try to get as much genetic history as you can. This information will be used to calculate the risk to your
Pregnancy – Conditions such as pre-eclampsia or DVT can be hereditary. Your doctor may want to start you on certain medications to prevent these complication affecting your pregnancy.
Baby – Family history can give an indication of how likely your baby is to inherit a condition. You can also take steps to prevent disorders such as spina bifida by taking increased dose of folic acid.
Your doctor will want to know your family ancestry on both sides. Some hereditary medical conditions affect certain populations more than others. The most commonly
- Cystic Fibrosis – Mainly affects those with Northern European heritage
- Sickle Cell Anaemia – Main affects those of African, Latin American and Indian Heritage
- Thalassemia – Mainly affects those of Mediterranean ancestry
- Tay–Sachs disease – common among the Ashkenazi Jewish Population
If your baby is at higher risk of these conditions its good to read up on them before you get pregnant. This will give you a better understanding of how likely you baby is to affect. You can also read more about the available screening and diagnostic tests and treatments for the condition.
2. Review Your Current Health
Reviewing your current health can help you to optimize your chances of getting pregnant and having an uncomplicated pregnancy. If you are of good health then skip to the next step. A preconception visit with a doctor is advised for:
Certain medical conditions will affect your likelihood of getting pregnant, especially if poorly controlled. They will also change your plan of care when you do get pregnant.Bodily changes during pregnancy can worsen or lessen your condition. You may be ‘higher risk’ with the need for more monitoring, screening, diagnostics or ultrasound scans. You should see a doctor for pre-pregnancy advice if you have any of the following:
- Bariatric BMI (Obesity)
- Blood Clotting disorder
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Defect or Disease
- Increased maternal age (35+)
- Thyroid disorder
Reviewing any prescribed, over the counter or herbal medicine is vital in pregnancy. Anything which enters your body will pass over to your baby. Your medications should be reviewed by a professional for:
Pregnancy – The changes in your body can affect how medication work on your body. You may need to change or stop medication as soon as you are pregnant. You may also need to alter the dose are taking.
Baby – Some medications are known to be harmful to babies especially in the 1st trimester. It’s important to discuss any medication with a pharmacist to ensure it’s ok to take in pregnancy.
Never suddenly stop taking any prescription drugs without prior medical advice. This may be dangerous to your health.
Mental health issues (past and current) and medication need to be discussed with a doctor. This is of utmost importance for:
Medication – Most psychiatry medication needs to be stopped in pregnancy. However stopping suddenly can cause severe problems. Your doctor should work out a weaning program for you.
Support – Pregnancy can sometime increase mental health issues. IT can also put you at higher risk postnatally for postpartum depression or psychosis. A plan should be put in place to offer mental health support during your pregnancy and after.
3. Sort Your Diet
Making changes to your diet before you get pregnant will give your baby a healthy start to life. Eating healthy can keep you at an optimal weight. But this advice isn’t just for moms to be, your partner should also improve their diet for improved sperm quality. When you are trying to conceive focus on:
Aim for a weight which puts you into a BMI of 18-25. Being under or overweight can put you at greater risk of pregnancy complications. Starting early will give you good habits for pregnancy so you don’t gain too much weight over those 9 months. If you suffer from PCOS you chances of conceiving will improve when you are at a healthy weight.
Getting foods from a different range of food groups will ensure you get a range of nutrient and minerals. This will help you and baby to grow and develop. It can also help prevent morning sickness in the early weeks. Vary up your diet eating plenty of:
- Fruit & vegetable
- Healthy Carbohydrates (potato, rice, pasta)
- Protein (including oily fish)
- Fiber rich foods
- Dairy products
Try to cut out refined and processed foods from your diet. This includes fast foods, chips and candy. Also reduce your intake of fish with high mercury content. Liver products should also be avoided due to their vitamin A content.
Start making healthy homemade meals so you control your salt intake. These skills will come in hand for when baby starts on solid food.
We recommend increasing your fluid levels by drinking plenty of plain, fresh water. Water will help you keep your womb, eggs and sperm healthy. You will also increase your cervical mucus which helps sperm on their journey. It’s a great habit to have for pregnancy, to prevent water retention and constipation in the early and last weeks.
If you regularly drink tea, coffee, soda or energy drinks it’s a good idea to cut back. Some studies have shown that caffeine can affect your fertility, although further studies are needed. It is known that excessive caffeine can cause low birth weight, an indirect cause of miscarriage.
Keeping fit will help you to maintain you weight and keep your body fit. Starting exercise before pregnancy will help you to get into the habit before you start experiencing those early symptoms. You don’t need to be a hard core gym bunny, make it fun. Try dancing, swimming, walking or yoga. Get your partner involved and make it quality couple time before baby comes along.
4. Take a Prenatal
A balanced diet is the most important way to get your essential nutrients. However a prenatal vitamin can give you a boost to ensure your get the correct amounts. It should be used as a diet aid and not a substitute for a poor diet. It’s recommended to start taking prenatal 3 months before your start trying to conceive.
It’s important to choose a specific prenatal vitamin so that the ingredients and dosages are tailored to those need in pregnancy. If you have a specialist diet, don’t eat certain food groups or have allergies/intolerance you need to ensure you get those nutrients. If you don’t eat meat you will benefit from additional vitamin B12 and vitamin D in your diet.
Folic acid helps your baby to develop and prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. You should take folic acid when trying to conceive right up to 12 weeks pregnant. A minim does of 400mcg is recommended. A higher dose of 5mg is required if you are
- Have history of neural tube defect
This mineral is important for healthy blood in pregnancy. Low iron levels cause anemia which result in feel tired, breathless, palpitations and dizziness. Anemia can also cause complications during labor and postnatal, especially if you have a large blood loss.
Caffeine can restrict iron absorption so reduce your intake if you are known to be anemic. Vitamin C improve iron absorption and can be found in oranges (including juice), strawberries and bell peppers.
You need some vitamin A, but too much can cause harm to your unborn baby. Regular vitamins have high levels of Vitamin A, which is why you should always use a pregnancy specific multivitamin.
5. Immunity and Infections
Having up to date immunization will give you the best chance at a healthy pregnancy. We recommend that at least 3 months before pregnancy you
- Check your rubella immunity
- Check your chicken pox immunity
- Have a smear test
- Have a full sexual health check
If there are any unusual results from these tests they can be treated before pregnancy. Conditions such as rubella, chickenpox or STI’s can affect you pregnancy and may even pass to baby. A smear test can pick up cervical abnormalities or internal infections such as Group B strep. This would then prompt further testing during pregnancy.
To minimize the risk of any infection during pregnancy we recommend good hygiene. Hand hygiene when handling food will minimize the risk of food poisoning. You should also wear gloves when gardening, changing a cat litter tray or pet handling. These activities put you at greater risk of toxoplasmosis infection which can be harmful to unborn babies.
6. Know your cycle
The single best game plan to getting pregnant quickly is to chart your cycle. If you start at least 3 months in advance you will pinpoint your most fertile days of the month. Learning about charting your cycle is quite easy and it can help you to become more in tune with your body. There are many apps and website to record your charts. We particularly recommend Fertility Friend as it’s free and has lots of charting tutorials. You can chart you cycle by
- Temperatures – Using a basal thermometer you need to measure your internal temperature at the same time every day. This needs to be done without leaving bed and by inserting the thermometer into the vagina. Your daily temperature will raise at some point during the month. This show the day you have ovulated.
- Urine Tests – Using tests similar to a pregnancy test will give a line when it detects your ovulation hormones. Some women prefer to use an ovulation monitor as a device to make the results easy to read. Check out our review of the Clearblue fertility monitor.
- Cervical Mucus – Your vaginal discharge will change over the month. Your body is telling you when it’s a good time to have sex. Look for an ‘egg white’ type discharge at your most fertile times. Click here for more information on how to assess your cervical mucus.
A combination of all these methods should give you a similar pattern each month. You should then start to have sex over your most fertile days.
Charting can help you identify any issues you may have with trying for a baby, such as irregular cycles or no ovulation. This information can give you a head start in any consultations with a fertility doctor.
7. Ditch the vices
Certain habits can make it more difficult for you to get pregnant. Ditching bad habits before you become pregnant will make your body healthier for your baby. This advice is for both parents and not mom only. The main culprits are:
It is recommended that you do not drink any alcohol 3 months prior to getting pregnant. Well we know that a lot of people get pregnant because of alcohol, so you baby may be at risk from fertilization. Frequent drinking or binge drinking in pregnancy can lead to a disability known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This condition results in physical and mental delays in affected children and increases the risk of miscarriage. It is unknown what the safe limit is to avoid your baby developing this disorder. The best and safest choice is to avoid drinking alcohol.
Most people are aware that smoking is very harmful to your health. Stopping smoking will increase your chances of conceiving naturally. Your body will be in a healthier condition for pregnancy. If you continue to smoke during pregnancy you increase the risk of complications. Smoking dramatically increase your babies risk of:
- low birth weight
- premature labor
- breathing difficulties
- still birth
- cot death
Second hand smoke is just as bad for you and will still put you at risk. If you do not smoke but your partner does, encourage then to give it up for baby. You can receive help to stop smoking from your doctor, or speak to a pharmacist about smoking aids to help you quit.
Recreational or street drug use is never safe for you. You should give up any illegal drug use at least immediately if you plan to get pregnant. These drugs affect both the sperm and eggs causing deformities and making it harder to get pregnant. If you continue to use drugs and you fall pregnant they can all affect your baby directly or indirectly. Drug use can lead to numerous complications and drastically increase our risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and preterm delivery. If you feel you are addicted to drugs, you should seek advice to quit before even thinking about trying for a baby.
8. See a Dentist
Healthy teeth and gum are very important to your overall health. Regular visits to your dentist can ward off infection and identify problems quickly. It’s important to get any dental work done before you get pregnant as many dental procedure cannot be done during pregnancy. Your dentist may want to take up to date x-rays as you won’t be able to have these during your pregnancy due to radiation risks.
Pregnancy hormones can weaken your gums and cause various dental health issues. Ongoing morning sickness can also cause erosion of your tooth enamel. Many women need to get dental work done after birth due to the effect of pregnancy on your teeth and gums. Some treatments such as orthodontics may even be set back until 9 months after birth to ensure the hormones have settled. Having all you dental work up to date will help minimize the risk of this happening to you.
Recent research has shown that women who suffer gum disease take longer to get pregnant. The study found that they took on average two months longer to conceive than women with healthy gums. The findings recommend regular flossing and dental check ups. Further research has also shown that there may be link between poor dental health and increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
9. Get Insured
You should take the time to review your health insurance before you get pregnant. It’s important to know exactly what level of maternity cover you have or if you need to upgrade. A straight forward pregnancy with a vaginal birth costs on average $30,000. That quickly rises with a high risk pregnancy or delivery. You will be billed individually for everything from blood tests, to ultrasounds to epidurals. You will also need to factor in adding health care for your baby.
By law you need some level of health insurance either through work or personal purchase. Full coverage means you pay a large sum to the insurer ever month. Co-Payment means you pay less to the insurer but from your own pocket when needed. If you do not currently have insurance there is financial aid available. If you income is below a certain level you can apply for Federal tax credits. You may also be eligible for Medicaid cover, check your eligibility here.
The Affordable Care Act 2014 ensured that all health care plans for women include maternity care. The level of coverage will vary. Always read the details, as there may be limitations to the services covered in the plan. Services which may not be covered in the plan include:
- prenatal care
- maternity counseling
- midwifery care,
- high-risk pregnancies
- homebirth/ midwife led units
- neonatal care
You should also consider choosing a plan which cover mental health. Poor mental health support during and after pregnancy can lead to long term health complications. Having access to services which can provide you with advice could be a significant part of your care.
For more information about buying health insurance from the Marketplace click here.
10. Stop Birth Control
The type of birth control you are using can affect the time it takes you to get pregnant. Let’s take an in depth look at each method
This includes diaphragms, cervical caps, male condoms, and female condoms and spermicides. These are only used when you have sex, and will cover you for one use only. As soon as you stop using a barrier method you are fertile.
These methods use artificial hormones to prevent pregnancy. This includes the pill, implant, injections, patch, intrauterine system (IUS), progestogen-only pill and vaginal ring. Your fertility will take time to resume after stopping them. This is because your body need to rid them from your system. Typically your body can take anytime from 1-12 months to return to its pre-birth control state. You may have erratic cycles for a while before a regular pattern returns. Hormone contraception can thin the walls of the womb. We recommend you wait until you have one full cycle before TTC to give any pregnancy a healthy start.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
Also known as a copper coil. This method does not contain any hormones and will allow you to resume fertility as soon as it is removed.
Reversal of tubal ligation or a vasectomy is not easy. Success rate for females is usually 20-70% and even lower for males. You may need to conceive through IVF if reversal is unsuccessful.
Getting pregnant can happen at any time regardless of how long you have been using birth control. Don’t assume it will happen quickly or take forever. Our best advice is to start tracking your cycles as soon as you quit birth control, or before if using a non-hormonal. Having sex over your most fertile days will give you an increased chance of pregnancy.
You should seek advice from a fertility doctor after you have been off birth control and actively trying to conceive for 12 months. If you are over 35, low sperm count or recurrent miscarriages then this time reduces to 6 months.
Stork Mama wish you all the best in you pregnancy journey. Remember to bookmark us for more useful advice when you are pregnant.