A Healthy Start: Preparing for Having a Baby

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A Healthy Start: Preparing for Having a Baby

Becoming a mother is a wonderful and life-changing journey. There are so many things your body does to nurture and grow a baby and preparing for pregnancy is an important step toward a healthy experience for both you and your baby.

OU Health obstetrician-gynecologist, Lucy Bates, M.D., specializes in the female reproductive system and care for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. Dr. Bates shares with us about what every woman should consider before embarking on the adventure of motherhood.

Thinking about Having a Baby?

Preconception care (or care for those considering pregnancy) aims to optimize your health, address any risk factors before conception, and reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy. It is a proactive and empowering step on the journey to motherhood. By addressing these key factors, you're not only optimizing your health but also laying the groundwork for a healthier pregnancy.

Where Should Women Start in Preparing for Conception?

There are several steps to prepare. Each step is important and will help your body to be in the best possible condition to have a healthy pregnancy.

Optimize Management of Chronic Conditions

Before conceiving, it's important to manage chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, psychiatric illnesses, and thyroid diseases. Chronic conditions can present unique challenges during pregnancy and need to be monitored carefully.

For women with diabetes, maintaining controlled blood sugar levels is crucial to prevent complications such as birth defects. Similarly, effective management of hypertension (high blood pressure) reduces the risk of preterm birth and preeclampsia.

These conditions can significantly impact pregnancy outcomes. Let your healthcare provider know that you are planning to conceive and work with them to ensure optimal management. Together you can develop a plan that ensures these conditions are well-controlled before conceiving.

Medication Review

Review all prescription and nonprescription medications, including nutritional supplements and herbal products, with your healthcare provider. Some substances may not be considered traditional medications but can influence reproduction and pregnancy.

A comprehensive review of all medications will ensure you are taking medication that is safe for pregnancy. The medication review process should include a thorough examination of over-the-counter medications, skin care products, and prescription medications. Sometimes, seemingly harmless supplements might interact with medications or affect reproductive health. Make sure you let your healthcare team know exactly what you’re taking, even if it’s only on occasion, so they can provide you with the best possible care.

Immunization Status: Shielding for Two

Ensuring your vaccinations are up to date is a proactive step toward a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Regularly assess your immunization status to protect both yourself and your future baby. Vaccinations for tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, acellular pertussis (Tdap), measles–mumps–rubella (MMR), hepatitis B, and varicella are highly recommended. Annual vaccination for respiratory viruses, such as influenza and COVID, is also recommended.

Vaccinations play a crucial role in preventing infectious diseases during pregnancy, as immunizations protect not only the mother but also the developing baby. The Tdap vaccine, for example, safeguards against whooping cough—a potentially dangerous infection for newborns. This vaccine is also recommended for all women during each pregnancy, regardless of your immunization history. MMR (measles–mumps–rubella) vaccination is essential for preventing congenital rubella syndrome.

Your healthcare provider can keep you informed of any vaccine schedule requirements or changes.

Avoiding Harmful Substances

It’s important that you stop using any alcohol, tobacco/nicotine products, marijuana, prescription opioids, and other drugs or medications used for nonmedical reasons.

Smoking cessation during pregnancy benefits both pregnant women and babies, but the greatest benefit has been shown in women who stop smoking prior to pregnancy. Other forms of tobacco use such as e-cigarettes, vaping products, hookah, and cigars also increase risks for both mothers and babies during pregnancy and should be avoided.

Prescription opioids and recreational drugs can negatively impact pregnancy as well. Opioid use disorder is a chronic, treatable disease that can be successfully managed with medication, behavioral therapy, and recovery support. Open communication with your doctor is important and seeking treatment prior to conception can help improve pregnancy outcomes.

If you need help to stop using addictive substances, speak to your healthcare professional.

Embrace Prenatal Vitamins

The early weeks of pregnancy are critical, and beginning vitamin supplementation before pregnancy ensures maximum benefit. Ideally you should start taking prenatal vitamins at least one month before pregnancy and continue taking them after you become pregnant. Prenatal vitamins contain the recommended daily vitamins and minerals you will need before and during your pregnancy, including folic acid and iron.

Folic acid is particularly important as early supplementation helps prevent problems with formation of the neural tube, the structure that forms the brain and spinal cord. The neural tube develops in the first few weeks of pregnancy before many women even know that they are pregnant, so it is crucial that women who may become pregnant start taking a daily prenatal vitamin.

Many prenatal vitamins are available over the counter, but you can discuss specific types with your doctor to determine which may be best for you.

Achieve a Healthy Body Mass Index (BMI)

Achieving a healthy BMI is not just about appearance—it significantly impacts fertility and pregnancy outcomes. Obesity is associated with a higher risk of complications such as gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders, and higher rates of cesarean delivery. Being underweight can also increase the risk of having a baby with a low birth weight and the risk of preterm delivery.

Work with your healthcare team as you strive for a balanced diet and regular exercise, aiming for a BMI within the normal range to optimize outcomes for you and your baby.

What are Some Final Thoughts on Preconception Care?

Preconception care is a proactive and empowering step on the journey to motherhood. By addressing these key factors you're not only optimizing your health but also laying the groundwork for a healthier pregnancy.

The foundation of preconception care is prevention, so let any of your healthcare providers know if you plan to pursue pregnancy within the next year.

I recommend that you make an appointment with your obstetrician-gynecologist to discuss preconception care and how to best prepare for a healthy pregnancy.

Learn more about women’s health services at OU Health, and gain access to an extensive network of specially trained experts who can help you as you prepare for conception.