Healthy Steps Before Pregnancy Improves Your Baby’s Growth, Development

Health Minute

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Diapers, baby wipes, onesies, a crib, a carseat and all the other baby-care essentials often filled the minds of parents-to-be. 

But, there is also a lot to plan for before you ever become pregnant, said Tiffany Hall, MD, of Premier Ob/Gyn.

“Women need to know how important preconception health is, especially if they are not preventing pregnancy,” said Dr. Hall, a Premier Health Specialists physician. “When a woman finds out she is pregnant, there are processes that have already begun relative to the formation of the baby. Most women are four weeks pregnant by the time they find out they are pregnant. Between two and four weeks a significant portion of a baby’s organs – including the spinal cord and brain – have already started to develop.”

Preconception is any time before a woman is pregnant during which she is not actively trying not to become pregnant. A woman’s health during this time has become an important issue recently among national health care organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

Birth outcomes in the U.S. are worse than any other developed country, despite advances in medicine and prenatal care in recent years, according to the CDC. The research showed that babies whose parents took steps to improve preconception health were less likely to be born early (preterm) or to have a low birth weight. These babies also were more likely to be born without birth defects or other disabling conditions.

Women should prepare for pregnancy at least three months before becoming pregnant, according to the Department of Health and Human ServicesOff Site Icon (HHS). Reaching a healthy weight, smoking cessation and adjusting medications should start even earlier.

The HHS states that women can improve preconception health by taking these five steps:

  • Alcohol and tobacco use: Stop smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Address medical conditions: If you have a medical condition, work to keep it under control. Some conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, obesity and oral health can affect pregnancy.
  • Check medications: Talk with your doctor about any over-the-counter and prescription medications you take to make sure they are safe during pregnancy. Also ask about any dietary or herbal supplements you take. Your doctor can also help you make sure your vaccinations are up to date.
  • Environmental concerns: Avoid contact with toxic substances or materials that could cause infection at home and work.
  • Folic acid: Take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day if you are planning to become pregnant or if there is a chance you could become pregnant. Folic acid is a B vitamin that lowers the risk of some birth defects of the brain and spine, such as spina bifida. Folic acid also keep your blood healthy to help you avoid getting anemia.

Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight before conceiving are also recommendations Dr. Hall gives her patients. Being overweight can cause a woman to be more likely to end up with gestational diabetes or hypertension while she is pregnant. It also can complicate the delivery of the baby, especially in a cesarean delivery. 

Being underweight can also cause health issues during pregnancy, according to the HHS.

“What some women fail to realize is that caring for the baby starts before conception,” Dr. Hall said. “But, care put in during the preconception period is what is going to matter when it comes to having a healthy baby.”

Find more information about preconception health talk with your physician or find a physician .

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.