The idea of starting or expanding your family is exciting but can also be nerve-racking. In order to have an easy pregnancy and a healthy baby, you want to be as healthy as possible before you begin your pregnancy. There is a lot of information out there about the best exercises, vitamins, and foods; it can be overwhelming. Luckily, it’s really not that complicated.
If possible, you can make several changes 3-6 months before you get pregnant. First, setting a goal for a healthy body weight is ideal. A normal BMI, or body mass index, is between 19 and 26. BMI can be calculated by knowing your height and weight and using a simple formula. Many BMI calculators are also available online. Try http://www.bmi-calculator.net/. Second, starting an exercise program that involves cardiovascular and weight training is also recommended. If you currently exercise regularly, you should continue your typical level of fitness.
Vitamins are everywhere and usually occupy an entire section at the drugstore. I am often asked, “Which one is the best?” In reality, the best vitamins come from our food. A diet that contains vegetables, fruits, and good sources of protein should provide you with a healthy balance of vitamins. Pregnancy is a special time, however, and a few vitamins in higher dosages are advised. Folic acid is a B vitamin and is important in the development of a baby’s spinal cord. Most cereals and bread are supplemented with folic acid. However, taking additional folic acid is important prior to pregnancy to make sure your baby will be healthy. Folic acid is available as a stand-alone vitamin and is also an ingredient in prenatal vitamins. Folic acid tablets come in 400 microgram tablets and it is recommended that you should take two daily. Women who are pregnant also need calcium in higher amounts–generally 1,000 to 1,200mg daily. Only take calcium supplements if you cannot get this amount in your diet. Iron is also important in your diet during pregnancy, but is not usually needed prior to pregnancy.
Once you are pregnant, there are a few types of foods you should avoid. When trying to get pregnant, the most important restriction involves fish that are high in mercury. Mercury is an element that can build up in our bodies and negatively affect the development of a baby’s brain. High mercury levels occur in larger fish such as tuna, mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, and tilefish. An extensive list can be found at www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/guide.asp . However, you shouldn’t avoid fish altogether. Fish that are low in mercury contain healthy omega three fatty acids and should be eaten a few times weekly.
Now it’s time to skip that cocktail with the girls. When actively trying for pregnancy, it is recommended not to drink alcohol or smoke. Alcohol can cause birth defects and no amount is currently known to be safe. Quitting the habit of smoking often takes several months and many tries. Your Women’s Care physician or primary care provider can offer you support to quit.
Remember that itchy rash you had as a kid? Hopefully, it was chickenpox (varicella) and you are immune. Testing for immunity to several infections is available and should be done if you are considering pregnancy. Both chicken pox and measles (rubella) are highly infectious viruses that can cause birth defects during pregnancy. Do not worry; there are vaccinations for both of these infections that can be completed prior to pregnancy if you are not immune.
Having a pre-conceptual consult with your Women’s Care provider is a great way to start getting prepared. A personalized approach can be developed to assist you with having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
And lastly for the cat lovers, due to a parasite found in cat feces, you are off litter box duty!
Tina Schnapper, MD