Got baby fever? If you’ve decided that 2019’s the year to welcome a little one into your family, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.
You’ve likely got the — ahem — basics down, but there’s more to consider when you’re planning to get pregnant than intercourse or some other form of insemination. Taking care of yourself before a baby enters the picture — or what doctors call preconception health — tops the list.
Telling your gynecologist should be right up there, too.
“I love having an opportunity to help my patients plan ahead for the healthiest pregnancy possible,” said Amy S. McGaraghan, MD, a gynecologist at Lahey Medical Center, Peabody. “Of course, it’s not required, but it is a smart choice to talk to your doctor a few months before you’d like to get pregnant to set a game plan going in.”
What’s in that game plan? These seven important things, according to Dr. McGaraghan.
1. Schedule a Checkup
If you’re thinking of getting pregnant within the next year, call your obstetrician, gynecologist, midwife or family doctor to get what the March of Dimes calls a preconception checkup. That appointment serves as a face-to-face opportunity for you to discuss your plans with your doctor.
Depending on the provider, many preconception checkups may include a medical exam and run-down of your personal and family medical history, as well as action plans you can take — such as nutrition plans, or medications you may need to start or stop taking — to get your body ready for having a baby.
2. Start Taking Folic Acid
At least one month before you’d like to get pregnant, stock your medicine cabinet with plenty of folic acid. Taking 400 milligrams of it daily starting at least one month before pregnancy can help prevent defects to the baby’s brain and spine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
3. Quit Smoking, Drinking and Recreational Drugs
Tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs can affect fertility, and they can cause birth defects, premature birth and death, according to the March of Dimes and the CDC. So quit those substances if you’re planning to get pregnant.
If you happen to have a glass of wine before you realize that you’re pregnant, let your doctor know.
“It’s best to avoid alcohol while trying to get pregnant, but if you do drink without knowing you’re pregnant, stop drinking as soon as you get that positive pregnancy test,” Dr. McGaraghan said. “And make sure to tell your doctor during your first prenatal visit.”
4. Exercise and Eat Well
By maintaining a healthy weight, you can avoid problems with your fertility and pregnancy. It’s never too late to get started with a healthy diet and exercise routine, Dr. McGaraghan said.
“It just starts with making simple choices every day to take care of yourself,” she said. “Avoid fried and sugary foods; eat plenty of fruits, veggies and whole grains; and get in at least two and a half hours a week of physical activity, like brisk walking or yardwork.”
5. Plan Your Birth Control Exit Strategy
Whatever your current birth control method, you’ll want to talk with your doctor about the best way to get off of it. Some types of birth control, such as the IUD, will need to be removed by a professional. Others, such as the pill, might cause a few side effects once you stop taking them.
6. Assess Your Family History
To make the most of preconception health planning, your doctor will want to know about your and your partner’s family histories. The American Pregnancy Association (APA) recommends that you go to your preconception checkup with details about any conditions that run in your family, such as diabetes, developmental disorders or high blood pressure.
And if twins run in the family? Your doctor will want to know that, too, Dr. McGaraghan says.
7. Ask About Vaccinations
Your doctor may want to test you to see if you’re immune to measles and chickenpox during your preconception checkup. If you aren’t immune, you might want to ask your doctor about getting immunized against those diseases at least four weeks before trying to get pregnant, according to the APA.
How Soon Will I Get Pregnant?
Once your game plan is set and operation Try-to-Conceive-in-2019 is officially a go, just remember: Every woman is different, and so is every pregnancy. Some women can conceive quickly after deciding to get pregnant. Others can’t. And that’s OK!
You can estimate your ovulation window — when an egg is released from the ovaries and is ready to be fertilized — by counting forward from your last menstrual period. For most women, that window is between 11 and 21 days after menstruation, according to the APA. Having sex during that window can raise your chances of getting pregnant. You can also track your ovulation with interactive tools, such as this one from the APA.
“Pregnancy is a wonderful journey, but the journey varies for everyone,” Dr. McGaraghan said. “Your story may be different than your friend’s or your sister’s, so try not to put too much pressure on yourself by setting a timeline for having a baby. Instead, focus on what you can control, like taking care of yourself as you get ready for that next chapter in your life.”
Ready to schedule your preconception checkup? Find a doctor near you to get started.