Planning your pregnancy

(This article is also available in an audio format)

Creating a baby together is nothing short of a miracle – and will be one of the most important decisions of your life. Your baby is created from two cells – and with much cell division and growth they develop into a miniature person. In order to give your baby the best opportunity in life, make sure your body is in optimal condition before you fall pregnant.

It’s never too early to start planning a pregnancy.

Ideally, you should plan your pregnancy at least 3-6 months in advance. This will allow you to prepare for a healthy conception and pregnancy. A general check-up by your doctor and a routine PAP smear is advisable. The healthier you are, the better chance of having a healthy baby, and your body provides the healthiest environment in which to grow your baby.

Nutrition and weight

Your nutrition needs should be high on your list of priorities for good preparation for pregnancy. Your body will be providing all the essential nutrients for your growing developing baby. If your body is nutrient deficient – your baby develops in a less than optimal environment. Vitamins do not take the place of a healthy diet. It is best to eat a well-balanced diet containing a variety of nutritious foods. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and foods high in protein are part of a healthy diet. Avoid skipping meals or relying on fast foods and junk foods; these are high in fats and chemical additives and lower in nutrition.

Being underweight or overweight can make your pregnancy more difficult. If you are very thin or exercise excessively, conception may be more difficult and you risk having a low birth weight infant. If you are overweight, you will have higher chances of developing fatigue, back pain, high blood pressure and diabetes during your pregnancy. You may have a larger baby and a higher chance of needing a caesarean section. Try to achieve an appropriate weight before becoming pregnant – develop a diet and exercise strategy with the help of a dietician.

Exercise program

Being active and having a regular exercise program will help you to cope with the physical demands of pregnancy. If you don’t already exercise, find activities that you can do regularly like walking, hiking, biking or swimming. Or join a gym and try aerobic activities or floor exercises. Overheating in the first weeks of pregnancy may be harmful, so sauna and hot tub use is discouraged. You should exercise in moderation; excessive exercise can diminish fertility. If you are not already exercising, start a program that you can continue throughout your pregnancy.

See you dentist and oral hygienist.

The health of your teeth and gums, can affect the growth and development of your foetus. Studies show that gum disease and oral infections can increase your risk for premature birth and low birthweight babies from either preterm labour or premature rupture of the membranes. Schedule any dental work that is needed to be done before you fall pregnant.

Home and Work Hazards

Make a list of chemicals you may be exposed to in your home or work environment. These may include lead (found in old paint and water from old pipes), pesticides and insecticides (for the garden or in animal flea collars), chemicals from factory work or other industries. If you work in a hospital, think about exposure to x-rays or chemotherapies. If you are a childcare worker, contagious and infectious diseases are more of a concern.

Couples discussion

Have a good chat to your partner and share with each other your priorities, expectations and fears about pregnancy, birth and parenting. You can then start on the same page for your pregnancy.

Health Tips

  • Healthy eating – ensure you are eating a well balanced nutritious diet. Your diet should be rich in folic acid
  • Start a maternity supplement containing 400mcg folic acid to decrease the risk of your baby having any neural tube defects like spina bifida. This is of utmost importance as your baby’s brain and spinal cord have formed significantly before you even know that you are pregnant
  • Try to reach your goal weight. Becoming pregnant is one of life’s greatest motivators for making healthy lifestyle changes. Try to maximize your own health and fitness.
  • Start or continue on a good regular exercise program
  • Cut back on your caffeine intake as even two cups of coffee a day can make it harder to conceive.
  • Avoid medication – even over the counter medications. If you are on chronic medication, discuss the medication with your doctor to ensure it is the best medication you are on for during pregnancy
  • Avoid alcohol. Heavy alcohol use during pregnancy has been associated with mental retardation and facial deformities in babies. There are no studies that have determined a safe minimum level for alcohol use in pregnancy, so it is safest to avoid alcohol altogether.
  • Stop smoking – both you and your partner. Smoking can make it harder for you to conceive and it can adversely affect the sperm count. Smoking is dangerous for a developing foetus! Smoking has been shown to cause underweight babies and restrict their growth as well as causing premature birth.
  • Check all your vaccinations are up to date. The most important of these is rubella. Make sure you are rubella-immune and have received a vaccination as a teenager. If you catch rubella in the first four months of pregnancy it can cause serious sight and hearing defects in your baby.
  • Know your HIV status
  • Do you need to go for genetic counselling? Read up on genetic counselling in one of our other articles called Genetic Counselling.

If you are using contraceptives such as the injection, IUCD or the pill, you should change to the diaphragm or condom during these 3-6 months until you have experienced a normal cycle. Once the initial 3-6 month period is over you can attempt to conceive. Remember not all women fall pregnant immediately. About 80% of women usually will fall pregnant within one year of trying. Make a habit of writing down the 1st day of your menstrual period. This day is used to work out the estimated date of delivery.

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