A practical 5-step conception plan for getting pregnant
According to Dr. F. Sessions Cole, director of the division of newborn medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and instructor of neurology and pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., the most important time in a pregnancy is the first four to eight weeks when most of your baby’s vital organs are forming. “To wait to stop smoking or drinking, taking prescription medications or adding nutrients to your diet until you find out you’re pregnant means you’re weeks or months late,” he says.
By the time you’re ready to conceive, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to feel this good.
Six months might be just what you need to get your body prepared for a healthy conception. In fact, by the time you’re ready to conceive, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to feel this good!
Step 1: Get a Complete Physical
“It’s always good to have a thorough physical and check with your doctor prior to becoming pregnant,” says Megan Steelman, B.A., A.C.C.E., author of Thinking Pregnant: Conceiving Your New Life with a Baby (New Harbinger, 2001). A full checkup will either result in a clean bill of health or reveal some things you will want to work on before conception.
Taneshia Laird, a hopeful mom-to-be living in Princeton, N.J., made an appointment for a full checkup before conception. “It was revealed that I had hypothyroidism, which can affect fertility, so now I’m on Unithroid,” she says.
At this time you should also discuss any prescription medications you are taking. “Most doctors will recommend that a woman stop smoking, drinking, taking drugs and birth control pills for at least three months prior to conception,” says Steelman. Medications for emotional disorders, blood thinners or drugs taken for heart disorders may need to be stopped or changed. “Many prescription medicines are necessary and won’t necessarily interfere with conception,” Steelman adds. Do not stop taking any prescriptions without talking to your doctor first.
Other important medical factors that you should consider now can be revealed by simple blood tests. For instance, you can confirm your immunity to rubella and chickenpox, so you won’t have to worry if you’re exposed during your pregnancy. You should also be tested for HIV at this time so you can prevent your baby from contracting the disease after delivery. If you don’t know the father’s blood type or your own, now is the time to find out. RH disease, the result of being incompatible, can be easily treated during the pregnancy.
Step 2: Take Charge of Your Weight
If you are overweight or underweight, take advantage of the next six months to get your weight stabilized. If you are seriously overweight or underweight it can influence birth defects like cleft palate and diabetes. If you start out heavier and gain too much weight, it can negatively impact blood glucose levels and blood pressure.
If you are underweight now, see your doctor about healthy weight gain. Being underweight while pregnant can result in your baby not growing properly or bed rest for you during pregnancy.
Overweight women should consult their doctor about a healthy weight loss plan and start a moderate exercising program. However, doctors agree that you shouldn’t start any new exercise program after conception. That’s why Tracy Rothman of El Dorado, Calif., decided to start before conception.
“I decided that I better already be in the habit of exercising beforehand,” she says. “I could stand to lose about 15 pounds, and I don’t want to add to the extra weight that I already have.”
Although there are many diet aids, such as “fat burner” pills and shakes, to help you lose weight, these products have not been studied in women trying to conceive. “My strong suggestion would be to use a judicious program of caloric restriction and exercise prior to pregnancy,” says Dr. Cole. “Such a program should be with the advice and approval of a treating physician, nurse practitioner or nurse midwife.”
Step 3: Stop Smoking
Easier said than done for most, but it is crucial you stop smoking before conception. Although some substances from smoking are cleansed by the body in a few days, others aren’t. In some cases, these harmful substances are stored directly in fat and can take longer to eliminate. To reduce prematurity, low birth weight and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome and asthma, stop smoking now.
There are programs specifically designed for women who want to stop smoking before becoming pregnant. Ask your doctor or midwife to see if there is a program in your area. If you are considering using a nicotine replacement product to stop smoking, talk with your doctor. According to Dr. Cole, nicotine replacement therapy studies have not been able to provide a definitive answer to suggest that nicotine replacement products are safe to use while you’re preparing to become pregnant or already pregnant.
It may be more beneficial to take the behavioral approach and seek support from loved ones and a counselor. You may be surprised how motivated you are to stop smoking when the goal is a healthy baby.
Step 4: Drop the Drugs and Alcohol
Fetal alcohol syndrome can cause serious defects and learning disabilities in your baby. You should stop consuming alcohol at least two months prior to conception. According to Dr. Cole, harmful substances from alcohol can be stored in fat and can take a month or more to be eliminated from your body.
Recreational drugs have adverse effects on your baby, not to mention your own body. Now is the perfect time to seek help. Don’t be embarrassed to ask your doctor about specifically-designed programs to help you stop drinking and/or taking recreational drugs. You’ll be glad you did.
Step 5: Take Vitamins with Folic Acid
Did you know you can reduce the risk of your baby being born with brain and spinal cord defects just by taking folic acid? The March of Dimes reports that the risk of brain and spinal cord defects are reduced by as much as 50 to 70 percent when the mother is taking a daily dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid. Look for prenatal vitamins that contain the recommended amount or ask your physician to prescribe one.
“Most men don’t think they need to do anything,” says Dr. Cole. “Sperm are the unindicted co-conspirators when it comes to birth defects. Sperm are as affected by tobacco, alcohol and recreational and prescription drugs as eggs.”
Men should follow the same guidelines as women and stop smoking (or using other tobacco products), drinking and recreational drug use. Prescriptions should be discussed with your doctor, too, so you can determine whether to stop, continue or substitute for another medicine. Other potential sources for concern are exposure to toxins like pesticides or organic solvents. Dr. Cole recommends exposure to these substances should be stopped prior to conception.