Preparing for pregnancy

You and your partner have decided to start a family. It’s fun to think about baby names and how you would set up the nursery. But first things first.

Your journey through pregnancy is perhaps the biggest physical and emotional change you will ever experience. And if you’re healthy now, you’ll have a much greater chance of a healthy pregnancy.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, our support starts from the minute you decide to have a baby — beginning with helping you prepare for pregnancy.

Visit your doctor

Before trying to get pregnant, you’ll want to make an appointment with your primary care physician or obstetrician-gynecologist. If you don’t already have an OB/GYN, it’s important to choose one now. Find an OB-GYN or midwife.

Your doctor will discuss your health history, review any medications you are taking, and help stabilize any ongoing medical conditions you may have, such as: arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, hepatitis, herpes, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, kidney disease, lupus or other conditions.

If you do not have immunity against rubella or varicella, ask your doctor if you should receive a vaccination for these diseases. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that women wait at least four weeks after receiving one of these vaccinations before trying to conceive.

What to consider before getting pregnant

What can you do to prepare yourself and your body for pregnancy? The first step is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Evaluate your daily habits and take some time to make the necessary changes for you and your future baby. Emotionally, you should be ready to commit to a lifetime of parenthood.

Here are some tips to get started:

Eat right

A balanced diet is important for everyone, particularly moms-to-be. It’s important to make the appropriate changes to your diet before you get pregnant.

Eat a balanced diet with foods high in protein, as well as fruits, green, leafy vegetables, grains and dairy products. Limit the amount of fish you eat, particularly ones with high levels of mercury like tuna, to no more than once a week. Avoid sushi.

Reduce your intake of empty calories, artificial sweeteners and caffeine, as too much caffeine can make it more difficult to get pregnant, and may increase the risk of miscarriage. As always, discuss your nutritional needs with your doctor before getting pregnant.

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Reach a healthy weight

Being overweight during pregnancy may increase your chances of having complications, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. If you are underweight or overweight, try to reach your ideal weight before you get pregnant.

Obesity affects your hormones, making it more difficult to conceive. It also increases the chance of problems during pregnancy, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. If your BMI (body mass index) is 30 or above, ask your doctor about diet and exercise programs that may help.

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Take the right supplements, including folic acid

Most doctors recommend that women begin taking a multivitamin supplement with 400-800 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid two months before getting pregnant. Taking folic acid is thought to reduce a baby's risk of developing birth defects of the spine, such as spina bifida.

Avoid vitamins with high doses of vitamin A, and avoid herbal supplements, as the safety of herbs in pregnancy is unknown. As always, discuss nutritional supplementation with your doctor before getting pregnant.

Exercise appropriately

Exercising before you get pregnant may help your body deal with all of the changes that you will go through during pregnancy and labor. The amount of exercise you’re able to do during pregnancy will be determined by your overall health and how active you were before you got pregnant.

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Nurture your well-being

While you’re trying to get pregnant, it is important to rest, relax and be as stress-free as possible. Practicing stress reduction techniques and getting plenty of rest and relaxation may make it easier for you to become pregnant.

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Quit unhealthy habits

Now is the time to quit any unhealthy habits. Don’t wait to stop smoking once you become pregnant—quit smoking now. Smoking makes it more difficult to conceive and puts your child at greater risk of health problems later in life.

Smoking during pregnancy can affect your baby's development and birth weight, as well as the health of the placenta. It increases the chance of complications during pregnancy, and doubles the risk of having a low birth weight baby. Smoking also increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirths, cleft lip or palate, asthma, preterm labor, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Get help to quit smoking.

You should also avoid alcohol, which can decrease your ability to get pregnant and damage a developing fetus. Women who have two or more drinks a day are at greater risk for giving birth to a baby with severe long-term effects, such as mental retardation, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and facial and heart defects.

Learn more about how to get ready for pregnancy

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Getting pregnant in later years

More and more women are having babies when they’re older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. While many women who are over age 35 and in good health will not have problems during pregnancy, these women still face an increased risk of complications.

Pregnancy can initiate or worsen high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease. The risk for genetic abnormalities in the baby, such as Down syndrome, as well as the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, rises as women get older. Some mothers have to deliver their babies early, or have low birth weight babies.

Edward-Elmhurst is here to support you in your pregnancy goals. If you are at least 35 years of age or have a personal or family history of a genetic disorder, you may want to consider genetic testing. Some tests can be done in your doctor's office, or you could ask for a referral to a genetic counselor.

Learn more about high-risk pregnancies

Pregnancy after a loss

Edward-Elmhurst offers a special support group, Sharing HOPE, for couples who have experienced a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, or neonatal death, and are now pregnant or considering pregnancy.

Genetic counseling

Edward-Elmhurst offers prenatal testing for genetic problems before or after conception. We can test couples and fetuses for certain inherited disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, as well as other chromosomal and genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome.

Who should consider genetic counseling?

Individuals at increased risk of passing genetic abnormalities on to their children include:

  • People with family histories of inherited disorders, or those who have previously had children with genetic disorders
  • Jews of Eastern European descent, who may have a high risk of having children with Tay-Sachs or Canavan’s (metabolic disorders that lead to death in early childhood)
  • African-Americans, who may risk passing on sickle-cell anemia to their children
  • Couples of Southeast Asian or Mediterranean origin, who are at increased risk of having children with thalassemia, a severe form of anemia
  • Women who were exposed to toxins that could cause birth defects
  • Women with prior medical conditions or diseases that may affect their fetus, such as diabetes
  • Couples who share a common ancestor
  • Women with a history of multiple miscarriages
  • Couples who have family members with birth defects or severe developmental problems
  • Women over the age of 35 and those who have received abnormal screening test results, such as alpha-fetoprotein (AFP)

How can genetic counseling help?

For those who may be at risk, genetic counseling and prenatal diagnosis can answer some important questions, such as:

  • Should we have a baby? Are the chances of having a baby with a genetic defect so high that choosing adoption or artificial insemination may be a better way to start a family?
  • How can we treat the fetus' potential defects? Are there surgical techniques available or other medical interventions that may help alleviate problems?
  • How do we prepare, physically and psychologically, for the possible outcome of a pregnancy? Are there special educational classes, training or information that we need in order to raise a child with defects?
  • Should we continue the pregnancy? Are the fetus' abnormalities so severe that we might choose to have an abortion?

It is important to remember that preconception testing can only provide the odds of having a child with a certain birth defect. If you decide to conceive, prenatal testing can help reveal whether or not the baby has inherited a disorder. Certain tests, such as for spina bifida or Down syndrome, are done once you are pregnant.

What to expect from genetic counseling

If you decide to meet with a genetic counselor, we’ll ask you to complete an in-depth family history. You and your partner may also get blood tests and undergo an analysis of your chromosomes known as karyotyping.

If you get tested after conception, one of the following tests will be used to obtain fetal cells whose genetic and chemical makeup can be analyzed in a laboratory:

  • Amniocentesis, in which fluid is withdrawn from the amniotic sac and analyzed.
  • Chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which takes a sampling of the cells of the placenta.
  • Percutaneous umbilical blood sampling (PUBS), which draws fetal blood from the umbilical cord.

Your genetic counselor will discuss with you the results and your options. If you are at risk of having a baby with a disorder, you may be able to use assisted reproductive technologies to reduce the chance that your baby will be affected.

Learn more about genetic counseling at Edward-Elmhurst