May 9, 2020

Your pre-pregnancy planning guide

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A healthy pregnancy begins before you even get pregnant. Here’s some pre-pregnancy planning to start your journey to motherhood.

The first few weeks of pregnancy are crucial to a baby’s development. However, many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant until several weeks after conception. That’s why a little pre-pregnancy planning goes a long way.

If you’re planning to become pregnant, taking these steps can help reduce risks for both you and your little one, as proper health before deciding to become pregnant is almost as important as maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy. With that in mind, here’s what needs to be part of your pre-pregnancy planning.

See your provider for a pre-pregnancy exam.

One of the most important steps in helping you prepare for a healthy pregnancy is a pre-pregnancy exam (often called preconception care) done by your healthcare provider before you become pregnant. This exam may include a deep dive into your family medical history, an assessment of any possible genetic disorders that could be inherited and a detailed look at your personal medical history (especially for those with a history of epilepsy, diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia or allergies). Your provider will also assess your current vaccine status and screen for sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infections. All of these steps will ensure you’ll be in your best health when you’re ready to get pregnant.

Stop smoking.

If you’re a smoker, stop smoking now (and encourage your partner to do so, as well). Studies have shown that babies born to mothers who smoke tend to be born prematurely, lower in birth weight and more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome. Women with exposure to secondhand smoke are more likely to have low-birth-weight babies, and there may also be dangers from “thirdhand smoke” — the chemicals, particles and gases of tobacco left on hair, clothing and furnishings.

Begin a vitamin regimen.

For starters, take 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. This nutrient — found in some green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals and some vitamin supplements — can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (also called neural tube defects). Also, begin taking a prenatal vitamin daily to make certain that your body gets all the necessary nutrients and vitamins needed to nourish a healthy baby. In addition to these vitamins and supplements, be sure you’re eating a balanced diet. This isn’t just good for your overall health, but essential for your baby, as well.

Avoid harmful substances.

Avoid exposure to alcohol and drugs during pregnancy. In addition, be sure to tell your healthcare provider of any medicines (prescription and over-the-counter) you’re currently taking. All may have negative effects on the developing fetus.

Mothers-to-be should also avoid exposure to toxic and chemical substances (like lead and pesticides), and radiation (like X-rays), as exposure to high levels of some types of radiation and some chemical and toxic substances may harm your growing baby.

Practice infection control.

A parasite called Toxoplasma gondii causes toxoplasmosis, which can cause serious illness in, or death of, a fetus. To avoid exposure, pregnant women (and those trying to get pregnant) should avoid the ingestion of undercooked meat and raw eggs. In addition, pregnant women should avoid all contact and exposure to cat feces and cat litter. A blood test before or during pregnancy can determine any parasite exposures.

Identify domestic violence.

Women suffering abuse before pregnancy may be at risk for increased abuse during pregnancy. Your healthcare provider can help you find community, social and legal resources to help you deal with domestic violence.

Vanderbilt Women’s Health  provides care for women at all stages of their lives at  locations across Middle Tennessee. Learn more  here  or call 615-343-5700.

Marylou Smith

Marylou Smith, MSN, CNM, BSN, is a wife, mother and advance practice nurse serving the women of Wilson County and beyond. After graduating from Vanderbilt University with her master's degree in Nursing and Midwifery in 2006, she joined Renaissance OB-GYN, a small private practice in Cortland, NY, where she attended the birth of more than 600 babies and provided care for women throughout their lifespan. In 2013,  she joined Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where she is now Assistant Division Director for Advance Practice Nurses in the Department of OB-GYN. She makes her home in Mount Juliet with her husband, son and daughter.