Want to know what to do before getting pregnant? Deciding to try for a baby is a huge life milestone, and preparing for pregnancy can seem daunting. Although many people fall pregnant without any real preparation for pregnancy, there are ways you can give yourself the best possible chance of falling pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy. Here are 13 precautions to take before getting pregnant:
Check your health insurance
Whilst this may not be the first thing on your mind, if you want to give birth as a private patient at a private or public hospital, you will need to check that your health insurance policy includes pregnancy and that you have – or will have – served your 12-month waiting period to be covered for childbirth by the time your baby is due.
If you smoke, quit
Smoking cigarettes have been proven to be harmful to both you and your unborn baby. So quitting smoking when preparing for pregnancy is strongly recommended “Smoking is associated with infertility in both men and women, and an increased chance of miscarriage. Smoking in pregnancy can also affect the size and the long-term health of babies. If you or your partner smoke, giving up before attempting to become pregnant is a good idea,” suggests obstetrician, gynecologist and fertility specialist Dr Ana.
Reduce your alcohol consumption
“It is strongly advised you limit your alcohol intake if you are planning to become pregnant. Large amounts of alcohol, particularly in the first few months of pregnancy, can lead to physical or mental abnormalities in babies as well as growth retardation. Alcohol intake can also affect sperm counts in men,” Dr Ana says. The recommended daily allowance of alcohol for healthy men and women is no more than two standard drinks per day, however, if you are pregnant the safest option is to not drink at all.
Have a sexual health check-up
Getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) checkup and Pap smear while preparing for pregnancy is important because you need to treat any sexually transmitted infection that you may have before you conceive. If you have concerns about STIs you should talk to your GP or obstetrician. Other gynecological conditions may also impact conception or cause issues during pregnancy, so it’s always important to talk to your doctor first before trying to fall pregnant.
Get up to date with your recommended vaccinations
It’s important to protect yourself and your developing baby from infections including whooping cough (pertussis), flu (influenza), measles, mumps, rubella (German measles) and chickenpox (varicella). If you catch rubella or chickenpox while you are pregnant, it can result in birth defects, and measles or mumps infection in early pregnancy can increase the chance of a miscarriage. If you are immunized against these infections, it will help protect your baby too. Ask your doctor for advice before getting pregnant.
Stop taking the pill
When you stop taking the contraceptive pill or stop using other forms of hormonal contraception, it may take a few months for your cycle to return to normal and for you to fall pregnant. That’s why it’s a good idea to stop using all forms of hormonal contraceptives as soon as you decide you are preparing for pregnancy.
Start charting when you’re ovulating
Take some of the guesswork out of falling pregnant by keeping an eye on the prime time for baby-making, which is around the time of ovulation. The two days before ovulation and the day of ovulation is when you are most likely to get pregnant. You can purchase ovulation kits at the chemist, or chart your cycle daily on phone apps, or why not use our ovulation calculator which you can find here.
A trip to the dentist is an important thing to do before getting pregnant as untreated dental problems may cause complications in pregnancy. In addition, despite dental X-rays generally being safe for a pregnant woman under the right precautions, it’s suggested that you avoid them during the first trimester. So, it’s a good idea to get any dental work requiring X-rays done before you fall pregnant.
Achieve a healthy weight for you
It’s important to look at your weight and try to reach a healthy weight for you in preparation for pregnancy. Eating a healthy balanced diet that includes fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes (e.g. beans), fish and lean meats can help with weight management. But it will also help ensure that your developing baby is getting the nutrients it needs. “Women who are underweight may be at risk of premature delivery, whereas women who are overweight or obese may be at risk of pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage, fetal abnormalities, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia,” tells Dr Ana.
Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself is not just physical, mental well being is really important too. “Pregnancy and childbirth can be a very stressful time. Concerns about work, housing, and financial security are also common areas of stress at this life stage,” says Dr Ana. If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, try and take some ‘me time’ where you do something you enjoy whether it is taking a warm bath, going for a walk, meditation or simply talking to a friend. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and speak to your obstetrician, doctor, a counselor or psychiatrist.
Start taking recommended pregnancy supplements
Your doctor may recommend supplements when preparing your body for pregnancy, as well as during your pregnancy. This includes taking folic acid, a supplement containing the synthetic form of folate (or vitamin B-9), which helps to prevent neural tube defects in a growing baby. “It is recommended that women intending to become pregnant take 0.5mg of folic acid a day for one month before pregnancy and for the first three months after becoming pregnant. If you have a family history of spina bifida or cleft palate or are on anti-epilepsy [or any other] medication, it is important to talk to your doctor about this before you become pregnant as higher doses of folic acid may be recommended,” says Dr Ana. Speak to your health professional about any other recommended vitamins or supplements you may need to take, and any medications you may already be taking, in case you need to stop taking these during pregnancy.
Find out about maternity leave
Discuss maternity leave with your workplace and find out what your options are. Maternity leave policies can differ between workplaces, so finding out what your entitlements are early can help give you peace of mind. Also, check your government entitlements so you know where you stand financially once bub comes.
Figure out what kind of birth you would like to have
There are four main options when the time comes to have the baby; private hospital, public hospital, birth centre or home birth. Talk through these options with your doctor, and decide which option suits you the best and ensure you’re eligible and covered by your health insurance.