By Leo Brancazio, MD

An expectant mother often asks me at her first prenatal visit, “What can I do to improve the health of my baby?” She usually doesn’t ask about her own health. By making a few lifestyle changes before getting pregnant, you can increase your chances of delivering a healthy baby and improve your own health.

Dr. Leo Brancazio

1. Consider birth control while working on your health goals.
Although this may sound counterintuitive, the first thing a woman should do when planning a pregnancy is use birth control. I say this because it takes time to make changes to your health. Once you have achieved or are near your health goals, you can stop the birth control.

2. Take vitamins with folic acid before getting pregnant.
Women who take folic acid before they conceive decrease their chances of having babies with certain birth defects. Take care and use the customary doses of these supplements as some vitamins at very high doses have been associated with birth defects.

3. Try to get closer to your ideal body weight with diet and exercise.
Excess weight may make it more difficult for you to get pregnant, and during a pregnancy, chances are higher of developing diabetes, having an unhealthy baby, complicated labor and birth, and even stillbirth. Women who are underweight also have difficulty getting pregnant and may have increased rates of preterm birth.

4. Discuss prescription medication risks with your doctor.
Many pregnant women suddenly stop taking their medications because of concerns about harming their baby. More often than not, suddenly stopping a medicine that is truly needed to control a health condition may harm a pregnancy. All women considering pregnancy should discuss their medicines before getting pregnant with their obstetrician or midwife. If a medicine may cause harm to a future pregnancy, your doctor can change it to a safer alternative before becoming pregnant. If there is a medicine that cannot be changed, you and your doctor can discuss the specific risks to your pregnancy and how you can decrease those risks as much as possible.

5. Discuss your medical history before conception.
Ask your partner about the possibility of any inheritable medical conditions before you visit your doctor. During your preconception doctor visit, ask your provider about any ways in which your medical, social, and family history could complicate a future pregnancy. Screening for certain genetic conditions or traits can done before pregnancy. Also, if you do not know your chicken pox infection history or vaccination status, get screened and vaccinated, so you do not have to worry about an infection during pregnancy.

6. If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to manage your condition.
Maintaining good to normal blood sugar values decreases the chances of various complications that may occur in pregnancy. Doctors often use a blood test called hemoglobin A1C to assess your risk of certain birth defects as a result of diabetes. It is important to control your blood sugar several weeks before attempting to conceive.

7. If you’re a smoker, use nicotine replacement products if you’re having difficulty with cravings.
Women who smoke have increased chances of miscarriage, preterm birth, unhealthy smaller babies, and even stillbirth. A hard habit to break, some women will try nicotine replacement products. Because of their concern about the effects of nicotine on their developing baby, some women stop using these products during pregnancy. If the alternative is continuing to smoke, most obstetricians will advocate the use of nicotine replacement during pregnancy.

8. Delay your second pregnancy by at least a year.
If you’re planning a second pregnancy, postpone it by at least a year after your first pregnancy, so you will have better chances of a good pregnancy outcome. This is especially true for women who have had a cesarean delivery or a preterm birth – it is often recommended delaying another pregnancy by eighteen months in these cases.

The best way to take care of yourself during pregnancy is to begin self-care before you conceive a child. Allow yourself time to get in the best possible shape for better pregnancy outcomes.

Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE.