Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I are planning to get pregnant in about a year. We hear a lot about what to do, health wise, during the pregnancy itself. But what about before? Are there things I should be doing to get my body ready?
A: Yes on all counts. An unborn baby’s organs start developing 17 to 56 days after conception. But that’s so early that you might not even know you’re pregnant yet. And by the time you find out, you may have already done all sorts of things that could affect the baby.
So it’s good that you and your husband are preparing yourselves so far in advance.
Make an appointment with your doctor for a preconception physical. Expect him to evaluate any medications you’re taking to see whether they’re safe during pregnancy.
He’ll probably prescribe prenatal vitamins with folic acid, which you’ll ideally start taking 6 to 12 weeks before conceiving.
Your doctor will also discuss medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, depression, epilepsy, obesity, or any kind of problems with previous pregnancies. All of these reduce your ability to get pregnant.
Be sure your immunizations are up to date, and expect to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
Start getting healthy right now. That means:
• Limit caffeine. Some studies show that caffeine can decrease a woman’s fertility and increase the risk of miscarriage or other problems.
Other studies find no connection. Still, it’s probably best if you cut back to no more than one or two cups of caffeinated beverages per day or switch to decaf.
• Exercise. It’s much better to continue an exercise routine you already have in place than to start a new one.
• Watch your weight. If you’re overweight, now’s the time to start slimming down. You definitely don’t want to be dieting during the pregnancy.
• Watch your diet. What you eat immediately before conception and in the first days and weeks of the pregnancy can have a big impact on fetal development and the baby’s long-term health.
• Quit smoking and drinking. Both decrease fertility and increase the risk of a premature or low-birthweight birth, or pregnancy loss.
• Stay out of hot tubs. A recent Kaiser Permanente study found that women who used a hot tub after conception were twice as likely to miscarry as women who didn’t.
Other research hasn’t found much of a connection, but Kaiser’s lead researcher, De-Kun Li, recommends that “women in the early stages of pregnancy, and those who may have conceived but aren’t sure, might want to play it safe for the first few months and avoid hot tubs.”