Want to have a baby? What to consider before conception

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There’s a lot to think about before bringing new life into the world.

If you are planning to become pregnant, taking certain steps can help reduce risks to both you and your baby. Being in good health before deciding to become pregnant is almost as important as maintaining a healthy body during pregnancy.

Thankfully, Sanford Health offers a preconception planning visit to address a lot of these things and minimize any risk of complications, while helping you feel more prepared for the process.

We asked Suja Roberts, M.D., to help us break down a few of the big considerations for moms, for partners and for both. She’s an OB/GYN at the Sanford Health Alexandria Clinic in Alexandria, Minnesota.

Considerations for mom

How old are you?

Age is not just a number.

It’s an important factor when thinking about pregnancy and raising a child.

“The prime age for reproductive women is between 18 to about 36,” Dr. Roberts told Sanford Health News.

While many wait until later in life to have children, age 35 is considered “advanced maternal age” by medical providers. There are many things  you can do to keep yourself and baby healthy and a care team for pregnancies that are considered high-risk.

Know your health history

The goal is to create an optimal care journey that is healthy and safe for the mom, baby and partner involved to understand and identify any risk factors.

What is healthy?

“Generally, a healthy woman has a body mass index (BMI), weight and blood pressure in normal ranges,” Dr. Roberts said. “Regular menstrual cycles, good thyroid, no diagnoses of diabetes or medical comorbidities and so on.”

Your provider will review your personal health history to find out the following:

  • Health problems that need special care during pregnancy, such as epilepsy, diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, or allergies
  • Medications you’re currently taking, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements to identify and harmful effects for a developing baby
  • Previous surgeries
  • Past pregnancy history, including the number, length of pregnancy (gestation), previous pregnancy complications, or pregnancy losses

Know your family’s health history

Your health history will help find out if any family member has had any health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or a developmental disability.

A review of any possible genetic problems can be done before and during pregnancy since several may be passed down in families. These include conditions such as cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, and sickle cell anemia. Some genetic conditions can be found by blood tests before pregnancy.

Start healthy habits

  • Take prenatal vitamins: Begin taking a prenatal vitamin which includes 400 mg of folic acid to support fetal growth with long-term benefits for baby’s brain and spine. This will help make sure that your body gets all the needed nutrients and vitamins to nourish a healthy baby. Folic acid is a nutrient found in some green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and vitamin supplements. Folic acid can help reduce the risk for birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (neural tube defects). If you have a family history of spina bifida, congenital heart defects, or cleft lip or palate, your health care provider may prescribe extra folic acid.
  • Eat well: Think about what you’re consuming. A balanced diet before and during pregnancy is good for your overall health. It is also needed for nourishing your baby.
  • Move your body: It is important to exercise regularly and stay at a healthy weight before and during pregnancy. If you are overweight, you may have health problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Being underweight may put your baby at risk of having a low birth weight.

Stop unsafe behaviors

  • Quit smoking: If you are a smoker, you’re encouraged to stop now. Studies have shown that babies born to mothers who smoke tend to be born too soon or have a lower birth weight. They have a higher chance of birth defects such as cleft lip or palate. They are also more likely to be stillborn or die of SIDS. Also, being exposed to secondhand smoke makes you more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby.
  • Don’t drink alcohol: Any kind of alcoholic drink is harmful during pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and developmental delays.
  • Avoid harmful chemicals: This includes consuming undercooked meat or raw eggs and avoiding getting too close to cat feces and litter. These may put you at risk for toxoplasmosis. This problem can cause serious illness or death of the baby. Stay away from harmful chemicals and substances, such as lead and pesticides. If it is medically necessary, some X-rays are OK to have during pregnancy. Being exposed to high levels of radiation and some chemicals may be harmful to your developing baby.

Check when to stop birth control

This is not a one-size-fits-all topic because birth control comes in many forms.

Whether you’re on the pill, using an intrauterine device (IUD), a patch, administering a shot, the ring or implanted device, it’s important to discuss a plan with your provider as each method carries its own recommendations.

Make sure vaccines are up-to-date

While many common vaccines are safe during pregnancy, there are some that should be avoided and given before conception.

Baby gets immunity, or protection, against various diseases from their mother during pregnancy which can extend through the first months of life.

Sanford Health medical leaders and the CDC encourage you to protect baby with:

  • Flu vaccine: Recommended during any trimester of pregnancy to prevent flu-related complications which can lead to premature labor and preterm birth
  • Tdap vaccine: Recommended between 27 and 36 weeks as infants during a pertussis outbreak are at the highest risk
  • COVID-19 vaccine: Recommended for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to become pregnant as pregnant women are at highest risk of illness, complication and death
  • RSV vaccine: Recommended between 32 and 36 weeks during the fall and winter months to protect babies from severe cases of RSV

Dr. Roberts will ask her patients about childhood vaccinations and whether they are immune to chickenpox and measles – two diseases among others that can be transmitted in utero.

Getting the recommended vaccines during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or birth defects, she said. If you are not immune, you may get a vaccine one month before conception to give you immunity.

Considerations for dad, partner

Manage health, weight, diet

It’s not all about the one who is carrying the baby.

Male partners are somewhat overlooked in preconception. They too could have medical conditions that could affect their sperm production and their overall health.

Dr. Roberts said there are things men can do to maintain optimal health for conception:

  • Quit smoking
  • Cut down on alcohol consumption
  • Discontinue any drug use
  • Review prescriptions to identify any medications that may be harmful to a pregnancy or medications that women should not be exposed to during pregnancy

Considerations for the family

Break down the cost

Having a baby is expensive, and discussing socioeconomic status and finances is a big step.

Sanford Health offers a variety of resources during preconception and prenatal appointments to help identify the costs associated with pregnancy care and baby after birth.

“Major expenditures include housing, child care, clothes, food, health care, transportation, among many others,” Dr. Roberts said.

Don’t forget about mental health

Dr. Roberts said fostering healthy, supportive relationships in and outside of the home are important before bringing a baby into the world and into a safe environment.

If you or your partner are abused before pregnancy, there is risk for increased abuse during pregnancy. Your provider can help you find community, social, and legal resources to help you deal with domestic violence.

Understanding ahead of time the chemical changes in a woman’s brain after birth, recognizing the signs for baby blues, postpartum depression and anxiety, and knowing the differences are important in supporting mental health.

Considering health risk factors, developing healthier habits and having conversations early can better prepare both parents for pregnancy.

Dr. Roberts has spent the last 35 years of her life caring for patients. Helping them get pregnant is her favorite part.

“When a woman or couple walks into a Sanford clinic, they are walking into a very safe and a happy space and a space where we’re ready to care for them,” Dr. Roberts said. “From our skillful nursing staff, OBs, we offer the full scope of maternity care. Questions will be answered, and concerns will be addressed. We are a great team.”

Find more information about pregnancy care or search for a women’s health specialist.

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Posted In
Alexandria, Healthy Living, Pregnancy, Women’s


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