The Gist of It
- Get a check-up with your gynaecologist before attempting to get pregnant.
- Start exercising and eating a nutritive diet to prep your body for a healthy pregnancy.
- Run through the preparation checklist below to see if you’re really ready to have a baby come into your life.
When you want to tie the knot, there’s often a lot of planning involved. From the ring, the dream wedding venue to your new home, most couples begin a new life together under the best possible circumstances. The same cannot often be said about a baby’s conception.
In fact, statistics show more than 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Of course, there’s nothing really wrong about an unplanned bundle of surprise, especially when you’re a young couple still in the midst of your honeymoon daze. However, there are many benefits of planning for a pregnancy, not just for you, but for your baby.
This includes being prepared physically, emotionally and financially for the baby. When you are both prepared, you and your partner will be happier during the pregnancy. Better still, preparing your body in advance usually means you’ll tend to have a healthier pregnancy and baby.
Start Planning By Visiting the Doctor
The preconception visit will be the first step towards ensuring you have a healthy start for your pregnancy!
You and your partner should make an appointment with your obstetrician or gynaecologist prior to getting pregnant. This visit should preferably take place around three months before you plan to get pregnant.
During this visit, a discussion regarding several issues will be done to map out your personal plan on how to conceive and achieve a healthy pregnancy. The doctor would most likely go through the following checklist with you and your partner:
1. Plan on starting a family
The questions will focus on your fertility, and issues surrounding you getting pregnant and what effects pregnancy could have on your health and body.
2. Any pre-existing medical condition, especially for the mom-to-be?
Focus could be on diabetes, epilepsy, hypertension, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, among others. It is important to identify any medical condition and to ensure the disease is well-controlled. The doctor will also review any medications and refer to the appropriate specialist, if required.
3. Inherited genetic condition
If there’s any family history such as the incidence of thalassaemia, sickle cell disease or birth defects, this information should be told to the doctor. Referral to a genetic counsellor may be required.
4. Reproductive history
This includes the history of previously acquired sexually transmitted disease, subfertility and also relevant past obstetric history (complications or miscarriages).
5. Immunisation history
Immunisation for disease such as rubella and chicken pox will be asked as these infections could cause foetal anomaly if contracted during the pregnancy. Vaccination is recommended three months prior to the conception, if you are not already immunised.
Folic acid supplementation will be recommended by your doctor prior to the pregnancy to reduce risk of spina bifida in your baby. A healthy and balanced diet will be emphasised.
It is important to achieve your ideal weight before pregnancy. If you are overweight or obese, it will be a good idea to lose those extra pounds first!
8. Lifestyle issues
It is recommended that you stop smoking, drinking alcohol and abstain from taking any recreational drugs prior to the pregnancy.
Your Action Steps Before Getting Pregnant
When you’re ready to get pregnant, you should be eating a balanced and healthy diet which would include food rich in proteins such as milk, fish, eggs, meat and poultry. Starchy food like rice, bread and potato plus a lot of vegetables and fruits should be in your diet too.
In addition, you should take foods rich in folic acid such as spinach, asparagus, broccoli, beetroot, chickpeas, soybeans, tofu, salmon, orange juice, avocado and fortifi ed cereals.
Even though a healthy balanced diet is the best way to get the essential nutrients you require ahead of and during the pregnancy, it is good to supplement your diet with prenatal vitamins as majority of us – due to perhaps our hectic modern lifestyle – are unable to eat a good balanced diet and often skip meals.
Are You Ready for a Baby? Questions to Ask Yourself
If you aren’t really sure exactly what you should be looking out for ahead of a pregnancy, here’s a checklist you could refer against:
- Are you and your partner prepared emotionally to have a baby?
- Are you prepared in terms of health to have a baby?
Do you have a known medical illness or any inherited family disorders? Are you overweight? Do you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol or take regular medication? Then, you may need to have a pre-conception counselling with your doctor.
- Are you prepared financially to have a baby?
- Have you worked out the additional budget required for the baby? Do you have enough medical insurance to cover the delivery charges? Find out about the policy at your workplace regarding maternity leave and possible part-time work after the delivery of your baby.
- Have you started taking prenatal vitamin supplements (containing folic acid)? Ideally, prenatal vitamin supplements containing folic acid should be taken at least three months prior to conceiving.
You should also stop smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. There is enough evidence on the risks of cigarette smoking and alcohol and how these are dangerous for your pregnancy and your growing baby.
What about contraception? Ideally, you should stop your contraception as soon as you are ready to get pregnant.
Supplements to Take
Supplementation taken prior to pregnancy on a daily basis ensures that you have the right amount of nutrients even before embarking on a pregnancy.
The prenatal vitamin supplementation may be advised by your doctors to cover any possible deficiency of minerals in your diet.
1. Folic acid
This is one of the most important vitamin supplements to take and most likely would be included in your prenatal vitamins. It is a water-soluble vitamin B. It should be taken three months prior to pregnancy until the 12th week of pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects.
The neural tube develops into the brain and spinal cord. Spina bifida is the most common neural tube defects, where the lower part of the spinal cord fails to close – leading to paralysis and lifelong disabilities.
It is recommended you take at least 400 microgram of folic acid pre-pregnancy, which could help reduce spina bifida risk by up to 70%. However, a woman with a previous history of a child with neural tube defect, epilepsy and diabetes will require a higher dose of 4mg.
Calcium is important for your circulatory, muscle and nervous system to function well. In addition, it helps to build strong bones and teeth for your developing baby. It is recommended that women take at least 1,000mg calcium a day when considering to get pregnant.
You could get your calcium intake from dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese. Those who do not eat dairy products or are lactose-intolerant could get your calcium from other sources such as tofu, calcium-fortified breads or cereals, sardines and salmon.
Foods to Stay Away From
The effect of alcohol is dose-related – it could lead to birth defects, growth problems, mental retardation and abnormal behaviour development.
As we do not know the exact amount that could perhaps lead to adverse effect on the foetus, it is best to avoid alcohol altogether – especially in the first three months of pregnancy.
High intake of caffeine (more than five cups a day) has several adverse effects that may be harmful during pregnancy. It is a stimulant which could lead to increased blood pressure and heart rate of not only the mother but also the foetus as it crosses the placenta.
In addition, it is associated with delayed pregnancy and miscarriages if present in moderate amounts. It is best to start cutting back on caffeine even before pregnancy to prevent cravings later on. Be aware that caffeine is not only found in coffee but also tea, chocolate and soda.
In the US, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and acesulfame K are approved for usage as sugar replacements and are considered safe during pregnancy. However, patients with phenylketonuria (PKU) should not take aspartame.
Also avoid exotic foods if you aren’t sure of what impact they might have on your pregnancy. Other foods to avoid include:
- Soft cheese, as they may contain listeriosis that could cause prematurity and growth problems
- Soft whipped cream
- Unpasteurised dairy products
- Raw and uncooked fish and seafood (e.g shellfish, oysters and clams, sushi)
- Raw eggs and undercooked milk
All these are simply precautions you could consider taking ahead of your pregnancy to ensure it goes as wonderful as possible. But, don’t get too caught up with such precautions and instead focus on looking forward to the bundle of joy to be cuddled up in your arms.
What’s your main concern when it comes to starting growing your family? Share with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page!