A healthy pregnancy begins well in advance of trying to conceive. Preconception health planning sets you up to feel your best while growing a baby, allowing you to work towards health goals and manage preexisting conditions that could potentially result in complications.
It can also help you make any necessary changes to your treatment plan — for example, if you take a medication that is considered unsafe during pregnancy, your doctor can help you safely transition to an alternative.
Below, we break down some of the most important steps to take as you focus on your health and wellness while building or growing your family.
1. Consult your doctor about your health history
As you begin to plan for a baby, schedule a doctor’s appointment to identify any health issues that can impact pregnancy — whether it’s your first, second, third, or fourth.
While chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, thyroid disease, and asthma are sometimes linked to pregnancy complications, you can prevent health challenges during pregnancy by staying proactive about treatment. For those with diabetes, this means working with your provider to maintain healthy blood sugar levels before trying to conceive. The same goes for hypertension and blood pressure levels.
Addressing past pregnancy complications
Be sure to discuss any past pregnancy complications, if relevant. Experiencing certain complications in a first pregnancy can increase your risk of having them again in a later pregnancy. These complications include:
High blood pressure
This does not mean that a recurrence is inevitable. Proactively managing your risk before and during pregnancy is the most important thing you can do to prevent these complications.
You should also share any health issues that you experienced during postpartum, including mental health challenges.
Changing a medication regimen or treatment plan
A pre-pregnancy care checkup is also an opportunity to discuss potential changes to your treatment plan. Bring all medications you are currently taking with you to this appointment, including vitamins and herbal remedies.
Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting your doctor. Many medications cannot be abruptly discontinued and require you to slowly titrate, or taper off, over a period of time
It is recommended to focus on preconception health at least three months prior to pregnancy. However, everyone has unique health needs, and you may need more time to prepare for a healthy pregnancy. Try, as much as possible, to be patient and give your body the time and space it needs.
2. Get all recommended vaccines and screenings
At the beginning of your family building journey, ask your doctor which vaccines are recommended for your age. Certain infections or illnesses can cause birth defects or pregnancy complications. Many of these can be prevented with vaccines. And since illness-fighting antibodies can pass through the placenta, vaccinated individuals can pass along immunity to their growing baby in the womb.
It’s important to stay up to date since the recommended timing of vaccines varies. Not all can be given during pregnancy while others can. Your doctor can clarify which vaccines are recommended before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and after delivery. (Two of the most important vaccines for pregnant women, the flu vaccine and the Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis), can be safely administered during pregnancy.)
Additionally, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, HPV, and viral hepatitis can cause pregnancy complications and harm a developing fetus. Fortunately, treatment can prevent transmission to a baby. Screening for these infections is a critical step in planning for a healthy pregnancy.
3. Take steps to live your healthiest life
In the months before trying to conceive, revisit your health habits and make any changes to your routine or lifestyle that can support the healthiest pregnancy possible. There are several key areas to focus on.
Diet and prenatal vitamins
Several nutrients are especially important to consume in the months before pregnancy.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends taking a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day for at least a month before pregnancy through the first trimester. This important nutrient supports a baby’s growth and development and can prevent certain birth defects.
Depending on your health history and previous pregnancies, your provider may advise you to increase your intake of folic acid with an additional supplement.
Calcium helps build a developing fetus’s bones and teeth. Dairy products including milk, cheese, and yogurt are the primary sources of calcium, but you can also get this nutrient from other sources including:
Fortified cereals, breads, and juices
Almonds and sesame seeds
Dark green leafy vegetables
If you are concerned about your calcium intake, ask your doctor about calcium supplements.
Iron also helps support a healthy pregnancy. Some prenatal vitamins include iron. It can also be found in the following iron-rich foods:
Beans and lentils
Enriched breakfast cereals
In addition, be sure to eat foods that support your body’s absorption of iron, including the following fruits and veggies, which are rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene:
Sweet potatoes and squash
Spinach and kale
If you have anemia, your doctor may recommend additional iron supplements.
An omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is important for fetal growth and development. It can be found in some foods such as fatty fish. Depending on your diet, your doctor may recommend taking supplemental DHA before and during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Some prenatal vitamins contain DHA, but not all, so be sure to check the ingredient list.
Since heavy caffeine consumption can affect fertility, it is recommended to reduce your intake to 200-300 mg per day.
Aim for about 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, incorporating some muscle-strengthening exercises.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Being underweight or overweight can cause health issues during pregnancy. Try to reach and maintain a healthy weight in the months before trying to conceive. Your provider is an important resource and can advise you on whether your weight may impact your pregnancy.
Smoking, drinking alcohol, and using certain drugs — including misusing prescription medication — can cause serious health issues during pregnancy like preterm birth and birth defects. When planning for a future pregnancy, do not be afraid to ask for any support needed to give up harmful behaviors. Your provider can offer resources.
It’s also important to avoid secondhand smoke during pregnancy.
4. Learn your family health history
Genetics are a factor in your baby’s health and the progression of your pregnancy. Prior to pregnancy, discuss your family’s health history as well as your partner’s with your provider. This allows them to identify any genetic risk factors.
Some couples and individuals may be referred to a genetic specialist for reasons such as the following:
A family history of a genetic condition, birth defect, chromosomal disorder, or cancer
Two or more pregnancy losses or a stillbirth
Having given birth to a child with a genetic condition, birth defect, or intellectual disability
These risk factors do not guarantee that your baby will develop a health condition or that you will have a complicated pregnancy. Genetic testing can determine the likelihood of passing on a genetic issue to a child. A genetic specialist can help you understand your options for testing.
5. Prioritize your partner’s health as well
Preconception health concerns both parents. Male partners should also take steps to become as healthy as possible, which will improve their own reproductive health and fertility. This includes limiting their alcohol intake, quitting smoking or using harmful substances, and eating a healthy diet. (These lifestyle factors have been linked to issues with sperm production.)
Other important steps for male partners to take before trying to conceive include getting screened for STIs and consulting with a provider about family health history and medication use.
Your partner in health
Alto Pharmacy can support you in preparing for a healthy pregnancy, however that looks for you. From delivering prenatal vitamins straight to your doorstep, supporting you in managing a chronic condition, or helping you navigate fertility treatment, we make it as simple as possible to focus on your health.
We offer free, same-day delivery and in-app medication management tools like reminders and auto refills. Additionally, our pharmacists are available to answer any questions you may have about medications or side effects.
To learn more, reach out any time through secure in-app messaging or by phone at 1-800-874-5881.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.