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Somethings you should do before you try to get pregnant

Somethings you should do before you try to get pregnant

You and your partner have decided to take the plunge into parenthood. But wait just one second — or a month or two at least! To give yourself the best chance for a healthy pregnancy and a healthier baby, there are a few important things you need to do before you head down the road to conception. Our list will help you get your life and body into baby-making shape.

Fuel up on folic acid

Even if you do manage to eat a balanced diet, it can be difficult to get all the nutrients you need from food alone — and there's one in particular you don't want to skimp on at this point. By taking 400 micrograms of folic acid a day for at least one month before you start trying and during your first trimester, you can cut your chances of having a baby with neural tube defects such as spina bifida by up to 70 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. You can buy folic acid supplements in the drugstore or you can just take a prenatal or regular multivitamin. If you do take a multivitamin, make sure it doesn't contain more than the recommended daily allowance of 770 mcg RAE(2,565 IU) of vitamin A unless it's all in a form called beta-carotene (getting too much of a certain kind of vitamin A can cause birth defects). If you're unsure what to take, ask your healthcare provider to recommend a supplement for you.

Just say no to smoking

If you smoke or take drugs, now's the time to stop, because some drugs can stay in your system after their effects have worn off. Numerous studies have shown that smoking and taking drugs can lead to miscarriages, premature birth, and low-birthweight babies. Plus, research suggests that smoking can affect your fertility and lower your partner's sperm count. In fact, studies have shown that even secondhand smoke may affect your chances of getting pregnant.

Get your weight in check

If you're a healthy weight, you'll likely have an easier time conceiving. Studies show that women whose body mass index (BMI) is below 20 or above 30 have a harder time getting pregnant, so it's a good idea to try to get yourself into the 20 to 30 range before you start trying. Click here to figure out your BMI. If you're not in a healthy range, losing or gaining weight may give you the boost you need to conceive. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to achieve your weight goals.

Stock your fridge with healthy foods

You're not eating for two yet, but you should start making nutritious food choices now so your body will be stocked up with the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. Try to get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day as well as plenty of whole grains and foods that are high in calcium, like milk, calcium-fortified orange juice, and yogurt. If you're a big fan of fish, start watching your intake. Although fish is an excellent source of protein, certain kinds tend to contain too much methyl mercury, which can be harmful to your baby's growing brain in high doses. FDA advises pregnant women to steer clear of these fish and to have no more than 12 ounces (the equivalent of about two servings) of other cooked fish a week, so it's not a bad idea to start following this advice now.

Create and follow an exercise program

Start and stick to a fitness plan now, and you'll be rewarded with a healthy body that's fit for pregnancy. Plus, working up a little sweat is a great way to relieve the stress that can get in the way of getting pregnant. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a healthy exercise program includes 20 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity, such as walking or cycling, three to five days a week; muscle strengthening, such as weight Kid's Health, two to three days a week; and exercise to increase flexibility, such as daily stretching, or yoga, two to three days a week. And once you're pregnant, remember that it's okay — and even recommended — that you continue exercising.

If your idea of working out is clicking the buttons on the TV remote, you'll need to ease into an exercise routine. Start with something tame, like walking ten to 20 minutes a day. Or add more activity into your daily routine by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car a few blocks away from work.

See your dentist

When you're getting yourself into baby-making shape, don't forget about your oral health. Mounting evidence suggests that periodontal disease — a bacterial infection that affects the gums and bones supporting the teeth — can lead to premature labor and low-birthweight babies. In fact, one large study found that pregnant women with periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a premature baby. And another study shows an association between gum disease and an increased risk of preeclampsia — a pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure, fluid retention, and protein in the urine.

To make matters worse, hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum disease. Increased progesterone and estrogen levels can cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria in plaque, resulting in swollen, bleeding, tender gums. The good news is that women who take care of their periodontal health before they get pregnant cut down on their chances of experiencing gum complications in pregnancy. See your dentist for a checkup and cleaning now if you haven't done so in the last six months.

Get in touch with your medical roots

It's a good idea for you and your partner to find out what your family health history is, so call your parents, siblings, or other relatives to get the medical scoop. If they get suspicious and you're not ready to share your news, tell them you're trying out a new healthcare provider. The most important thing to ask about is whether anyone in your family has any genetic or chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome, sickle-cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, or bleeding disorders. You'll also want to find out if any relatives have mental retardation or other developmental delays or were born with an anatomical birth defect, like a cardiac or neural tube defect. Your practitioner will ask you a series of questions at your preconception visit or first prenatal checkup, and your answers will help determine whether specific prenatal tests are recommended or if you or your partner should consider genetic testing before you even start trying.

Schedule a preconception visit

You don't have to have a doctor or midwife lined up yet to deliver your baby, but you should set up an appointment now with your regular healthcare provider for a preconception checkup. Your practitioner will likely ask you about your personal and family medical history, your present health, and any medications you're taking. Some drugs, like Accutane, for example (a commonly prescribed acne medication), are stored in your body's fat and can linger there for months. She should also discuss diet, weight, and exercise with you; recommend a prenatal vitamin; make sure you're up to date on your immunizations; test you for immunity to childhood diseases like chicken pox and rubella; and answer any questions you have. If it's been a year since you had a checkup, you can also expect to have a pelvic exam and a pap smear, and to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases if you're at risk. For more information on what to expect at a preconception visit , click here.

Figure out when you ovulate

Some women simply stop using birth control when they're ready to get pregnant and let fate decide when they'll conceive. Others take a more calculated approach by pinpointing their ovulation day. Use our ovulation calculator to get a rough estimate. If you want to be more exact, start charting your basal body temperature (BBT) and the changes in your cervical mucus. Tracking these symptoms over several months can help you figure out when you're ovulating during each cycle. To get a precise temperature reading, you'll need to check yours first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed, using a special basal thermometer (available at drugstores and at the BabyCenter Store).

Ovulation predictor kits can also help you figure out when you're ovulating by detecting hormones in your urine that signal ovulation is about to occur.

Get in touch with your mental health

Women who suffer from depression are twice as likely to have problems with fertility as women who don't, according to Alice Domar, a psychologist and director of the Mind/ Body Center for Women's Health. As she points out: "If someone is clinically depressed, she can barely take care of herself, much less a baby. From an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense that it's hard to get pregnant when you're depressed."

Domar suggests that all women — but especially those with a personal or family history of depression — do a mental health check before they get pregnant. If you notice signs of depression, such as a loss of interest and pleasure in things that you used to enjoy, a change in appetite, a change in sleep pattern, a loss of energy, or feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, ask your practitioner for a referral to a therapist or psychiatrist for a consultation. If medication becomes necessary, a psychiatrist can help you find an antidepressant that's safe to take while trying to conceive and during pregnancy. You may also want to try stress management techniques, such as yoga and meditation, which research suggests can also help depressed women conceive.

Avoid infections

It's important to steer clear of infections when you're trying to get pregnant, especially those that could harm your baby-to-be. You'll want to stay away from certain foods such as unpasteurized soft cheeses and other dairy products, packaged luncheon and deli meats, and raw and undercooked fish and poultry. These foods can harbor a dangerous bacteria that causes listeriosis, a food-borne illness that can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth. You should also avoid unpasteurized juices because they can contain bacteria.

You should also be sure to wash your hands frequently when preparing meals and make sure your fridge is set between 35 and 40 degrees F (2 and 4 degrees C) and your freezer at or below 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C) to keep cold foods from going bad. Finally, it's a good idea to wear gloves when digging in the garden or sandbox and to get someone else to change the litter box to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis, another infection that can be dangerous for a developing baby.

Eliminate environmental dangers

Some jobs can be hazardous to you and your unborn children. If you're routinely exposed to chemicals or radiation, you'll need to make some changes before you conceive. Also, keep in mind that some cleaning products, pesticides, solvents, and lead in drinking water from old pipes can be dangerous for a developing baby. Talk to your doctor or midwife about what your daily routine involves and see if you can come up with ways to avoid or eliminate hazards in your home and workplace.

Think your decision through

Having a child is a lifetime commitment. Before you decide to make a baby, it's important that you and your partner consider what you're in for and whether you're ready to take on this responsibility. Some of the key questions to consider are:

• Are you both equally committed to becoming parents?
• If you have religious differences, have you discussed how they will affect your child?
• Have you thought through how you'll handle childcare responsibilities and balancing work and family?
• Are you prepared to parent a special-needs child?

Tell a friend

While this is an incredibly exciting time, it can also be stressful and emotional. Confide in a friend (besides your partner) about the leap you're about to make. It'll be great to have a support system in place once the morning sickness and wild hormones kick in. And it's always fun to have another person to daydream with about your baby-to-be. You can share stories, advice, and support with other women trying to get pregnant.

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