12 Steps to Take Before Conceiving

It's not something many couples think about, but preparing your body for pregnancy at least one month ahead of time can improve your odds of conceiving more easily, having a healthier pregnancy, delivering a healthy baby and recovering more easily.

Here are 12 tips from the March of Dimes and other pregnancy health sources to help you make the right choices for preconception nutrition, health and physical fitness:

  1. Visit an Ob/Gyn, and request a "preconception" check-up. Your mission is to find out whether you're in good health and physical condition for pregnancy. Your doctor will address any immunizations or medical tests you may need (such as a Pap smear for women), as well as personal and family medical history. Your doctor can also evaluate how much you weigh now and set a target weight gain for pregnancy. Future dads should go in for a general physical (preferably 90 to 120 days before trying to conceive) to be sure they're also in good health.
  2. See your dentist for a check-up. Because dental health affects overall health, it makes sense to have a dental exam before pregnancy. Furthermore, researchers have found that periodontal disease can lead to preterm delivery and a higher incidence of low birth-weight babies.
  3. Get to a healthy body weight (in a healthy manner). This applies to women who are too thin or too overweight before pregnancy. Check in with your physician about your specific healthy weight.
  4. Eat a well-balanced diet that includes a wide variety of healthy foods from all the basic food groups. Be aware that there are some foods you should completely avoid (for example, liver). Keep well-hydrated primarily by drinking water.
  5. Stop taking any and all supplements unless approved by your physician. This is particularly important if you're already trying to conceive. Your doctor will likely prescribe a prenatal supplement to begin taking now.
  6. Make sure your intake of folic acid, a B vitamin, is optimal to help prevent birth defects. Good sources of folic acid include a prenatal supplement, enriched breads, pastas, cereals, dried beans/lentils, asparagus, wheat germ, greens and orange juice.
  7. If you've been told you have anemia (iron deficiency), it needs to be resolved prior to conception through dietary means and iron supplements prescribed by a doctor.
  8. Begin reducing your intake of caffeine. You don't have to eliminate it altogether, but the March of Dimes recommends limiting coffee to no more than one 12-ouce cup a day. Cut back on other sources of caffeine, too, including soft drinks, medications and foods containing caffeine.
  9. Stop drinking alcohol, stop smoking, and stop taking any illegal drugs (dads, too). All of these can hamper attempts to get pregnant. During pregnancy, a woman who drinks, smokes or takes drugs puts her unborn baby at serious risk of low birth weight and dangerous health complications.
  10. Use proper safety precautions around worksite agents, chemicals, lead and other potential hazards (dad, too). Avoid hazardous cleaning supplies, pesticides, chemicals and paint. If your water pipes are old, consider having them tested for lead.
  11. Avoid potential infections. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water after using the bathroom, blowing your nose or handling soil. Avoid raw meat, raw fish and unpasteurized milk products. The future mom also should not handle cat litter; let someone else change the box from now on.
  12. Establish a reasonable, regular exercise routine. Your level of fitness prior to pregnancy is what will determine how active you can be once pregnant. Just 30 minutes of exercise every day or most days of the week is enough to help maintain or lose weight, improve fitness and reduce stress. Good exercise choices during pregnancy, by the way, include walking, swimming and yoga, according to the March of Dimes.

© Parenthood.com, used with permission.

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