Are you ready to try to conceive?
"It's positive!" If you're like many people, the first time you'll see your doctor is right after a positive pregnancy test. Instead, you should move visiting the doctor to the top of your to-do list before you start trying to get pregnant.
After all, getting pregnant is not as easy as most people imagine. 20% of couples will conceive within one month if they have regular unprotected sex, for around 85% of couples, it takes up to a year to get pregnant.
Yet most people prepare their cars for a weekend trip better than they prepare their bodies for a pregnancy. It makes sense to prepare yourself before you begin trying, to make sure you have the best chance to make a healthy baby. That means the first questions you may want to answer are: "What needs to happen for us to get pregnant and how can I check each part to make sure it's working?"
Pre-conception care is a growing field and research is finding that, when put to use, it can have a significant impact on the health of you and your baby. Pre-conception counselling usually involves meeting with a doctor or another healthcare provider who is experienced in this specialty before pregnancy. It usually consists of an assessment of the health of both potential parents, although a greater emphasis is usually placed on that of the mother. It may also involve doing some tests.
Among the items that may be covered in preconception counselling will be a thorough personal, medical and family history of the potential mother and father. This should include:
- Information about your reproductive history and sexual health, such as previous pregnancies, any STIs you have had and previous contraceptive methods
- Information about family members with hypertension, diabetes, mental disability, blindness and deafness
- Family history of multiple births or congenital birth defects
- A list of any current medications you and your partner are taking
- A review of prior pregnancy problems
- A physical examination of the mother including a cervical smear and other tests, if indicated
- A physical examination of the father, if indicated
- Blood samples and other tests of both parents if indicated (e.g. HIV, infectious diseases, genetic predisposition)
Additional items to discuss with any pre-conception healthcare provider include:
- Your weight. The time to reach your ideal weight is before you conceive. Weight loss is not recommended while pregnant.
- Obesity puts your pregnancy in a high-risk category, increasing your chances of gestational diabetes.
- Underweight women sometimes have irregular or no ovulation, making it harder to get pregnant and they have a higher risk of delivering a low birth-weight baby.
- Your diet. This needs to provide for your needs and those of your unborn baby. However, this doesn’t mean eating twice as much. It means making sure you are at your dietary best to provide the nutrients both of you will need.
- Try not to have more than 200mg of caffeine per day. That's equal to about two cups of instant coffee.
- Make sure you add a folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms a day as soon as you think about the possibility of getting pregnant. Folic acid is essential in preventing foetal problems such as neural tube defects, including spina bifida. This protection applies to the very early stages of pregnancy, so it's vital to start the folic acid supplement at least one to two months before you conceive, and at least as soon as you stop using contraception, and to continue taking it until the 12th week of pregnancy. Some women need to take 5mg a day so ask your doctor about what’s best for you.
- Your exercise routine. Make sure you review or make any changes to your current physical activity, or discuss activities to add to your day that are both safe and helpful in preparing you for the big workout called labour and delivery.
- Your home and workspaces. Now is the time to remove or reduce hazards to you and your future child, such as cat litter trays (cat faeces are linked to toxoplasmosis, a disease that can be dangerous to an unborn baby), lead paint, asbestos and harmful chemicals.
- Your lifestyle. If you smoke, stop. There are few changes you can make that so dramatically increase both your health and your family's health outlook than stopping smoking. Don't hesitate to ask your doctor for help stopping. This goes for your partner, too. Illegal drug use (including marijuana) should cease as well. It's also best to stop alcohol consumption as soon as you start trying to conceive.