Before You Get Pregnant
Before you actually get pregnant, there are some important things you should know, including health tips that can make it easier to conceive and ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Health Tips if You Want to Get Pregnant
We help women prepare for conception and pregnancy and maintain ideal maternal health.
Good health is important for mothers-to-be even before conception and pregnancy. Here are some tips that can help:
Stopping Birth Control
If you are using the pill, patch, or ring it could take a few months before your periods are regular and you begin ovulating again. It usually is best to stop these birth control methods at the end of a cycle to avoid mid-cycle bleeding.
For advice on stopping other forms of birth control such as Depo-Provera or Norplant, talk to your health care provider.
What’s the Best Time to Get Pregnant?
To increase your chances of pregnancy, you must be aware of your menstrual cycle and be able to predict your most fertile days. There are three common methods of recognizing the fertile days of your cycle: Cervical Mucus, Basal Body Temperature, and by Calendar.
Cervical Mucus Method
Cervical mucus helps with the transportation of sperm and changes during your most fertile days to help sperm live and travel in the uterus. Begin to check cervical mucus after menstruation:
- Before or after urination, wipe with tissue over the vaginal opening.
- When mucus appears, you are beginning your fertile phase.
- When mucus is stretchy, you are most fertile.
Intercourse can change cervical mucus due to the presence of semen. It may take up to 24 hours for semen to leave the vaginal area.
Basal Body Temperature Method (BBT)
You can use a BBT thermometer to monitor your temperature. At ovulation, your BBT will be about 0.4 degrees above the average. (Illness, food, drink or stress can also change your BBT.)
- Take your temperature in the morning before getting out of bed.
- Record the temperature on a chart.
- When your BBT increases .4-.6 degrees between readings, ovulation is assumed.
Keeping track of your menstrual cycles can help you predict your fertile days. This method is most effective for women who have regular menstrual cycles.
You are fertile 14 days prior to the first day of your period. To track your ovulation date:
- Keep track of six “normal menstrual cycles.”
- Calculate the average number of days in your cycle.
- Subtract 14 days from the average number of days in your cycle.
For example: If on average the first day of one period to the first day of your next period is 32 days, then 32-14 = 18. So, 18 days after the start of each period should be your most fertile day.
Improving Your Chances of Conception
You and your partner should eat a well-balanced diet, take vitamins, maintain a healthy weight, and stay away from tobacco, alcohol and drugs. You can also talk to your physician about taking certain medications and herbal supplements to increase your chances of conception. Males should avoid tight-fitting clothes, jockey underwear, and other situations that increase testicular heat.
- Refrain from intercourse two to five days prior to ovulation (this will maximize sperm concentrations).
- Have intercourse no more than every 36-48 hours during your fertile time and avoid lubricants (which can be toxic to sperm).
- Rest for up to 20 minutes after intercourse before getting up
Signs of Pregnancy
A missed period, tender breasts, nausea, fatigue, frequent urination, headaches, spotting, light-headedness, constipation, and heartburn are some common signs of pregnancy. Often these symptoms will not appear until six weeks into your pregnancy.
Pregnancy tests will detect the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin about one week after fertilization with 95% accuracy. Because pregnancy tests are meant to be screening tests you should call your doctor to set up an appointment when:
- Test results are positive
- Results are negative, yet you are experiencing the symptoms of pregnancy
When to Seek Help
You should consult your health care provider if
- You are under age 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for more than a year.
- You are over age 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for more than six months.
If You Have Concerns About Genetics
Reproductive genetic counselors at Baystate Reproductive Medicine can help you assess whether or not there are genetic factors that might affect the health of your child.
Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle
It is important to develop a healthy lifestyle three months before your pregnancy. To be in the best health for your baby, you’ll need to eat a balanced diet, maintain your ideal weight, and make sure your body gets important extra nutrients.
Nutrition: Eating and Living Well
A well-balanced diet will increase your chances of conception and keep your baby healthy:
- Drink 8 glasses of water a day
- Take prenatal vitamins daily
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Use artificial sweeteners in moderation
- Limit caffeine to no more than 150 mg a day (8 oz of coffee can contain 130-160 mg of caffeine)
- Don’t drink alcohol and don’t smoke
- Avoid fish containing mercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel and filefish
Nutrition is also important for dads-to-be. Studies show that vitamin C, zinc, and calcium are vital to healthy sperm production.
The Dangers of Dieting During Pregnancy
Dieting during pregnancy can cause abnormalities and a low birth weight for you baby; therefore your ideal weight should be reached before pregnancy. Overweight women risk high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy and underweight women may have smaller babies and can have more difficulty during labor and recovery. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about your ideal weight, eating habits, use of vitamins, and any eating disorders you may have.
The Importance of Folic Acid
Taking the naturally occurring B vitamin folic acid before pregnancy can prevent serious birth defects. Folic acid, also called folate, is found in fruits and vegetables, fortified cereals, and enriched bread products. It helps in the production of red blood cells and chemical components of the brain and spinal cord.
During the first weeks of pregnancy, folic acid helps when the neural tube is developing (the part of the fetus that becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord). Your baby could suffer serious neural tube defects (NTD) if the fetus doesn’t get enough folic acid.
The two most common NTDs are anencephaly (partial or complete absence of the brain) and spina bifida (an opening in the spinal cord which could lead to problems with walking or learning). In the United States, about 2,500 babies are born each year with NTDs. There is a 50% chance of preventing an NTD in your child when you consume the appropriate amount of folic acid before and during pregnancy.
How much folic acid do I need?
According to industry recommendations, women who could become pregnant should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. Check with your provider to verify the right dosage for you. During pregnancy 600 mg. is recommended. There are many ways to get your daily dose:
- Take a multivitamin containing 400 mg. of folic acid
- Ask your OB/GYN if you can start taking a prenatal vitamin
- Eat a serving of cereal fortified with 400 mg. of folic acid
- Eat several servings of folic acid-fortified foods
- Eat lots of foods containing folic acid naturally
What foods contain folic acid?
- Fortified breakfast cereals such as Total and Product 19
- Asparagus , Spinach, Romaine lettuce, and Broccoli
- Black beans
- Orange juice (from concentrate is best)
- Enriched breads and pasta
Your Preconception Checkup
During this checkup, your health care provider may run blood tests, conduct a Pap smear or pelvic exam, assess your diet and lifestyle, and check your blood pressure. Your provider will also review your family medical history to see if there are any illnesses, birth defects, or disorders that could affect your pregnancy. The following are important areas your doctor should cover:
Review and update your immunizations to avoid complications during a pregnancy.
Catching the chickenpox, measles, or other diseases during pregnancy can affect the development of your baby.
You should wait three months after any immunization shot before trying to become pregnant.
Pre-existing medical conditions
Review any treatment changes that may have to be made during pregnancy.
Make sure any sexually transmitted diseases you might have are cured.
You and your provider should also discuss the affects that a pregnancy might have on any medical conditions you have.
Be sure that any medications you are currently taking (including over-the-counter medications and herbal and alternative medicines) are safe to take during pregnancy.
The signs and symptoms of a toxoplasmosis infection are mild and often go unnoticed, but a developing fetus can suffer devastating effects or fatal illness. You can prevent toxoplasmosis by:
Avoiding consumption of raw meat
Avoiding touching one’s mouth or eyes after handling raw meat
Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly
Avoiding contact with cat feces and litter boxes
Wearing gloves while gardening.
For more information, consult with your health care provider.
Genetic Counseling Referral
Genetic counselors help parents-to-be understand the risk of having a baby with a birth defect. If you are concerned about diseases or traits that run in your family, you should ask your health care provider about genetic counseling. Your provider might also refer you for one of the following reasons:
You are over age 35
You are married to a first cousin or close relative
You belong to a racial/ethnic group that has a high incidence of genetic disease
You have had repeated miscarriages in the past.
Don’t forget to ask questions
Write down some questions ahead of time to bring to your appointment. Our physicians, nurse-midwives and other birthing professionals are happy to answer your questions and help make sure your delivery is the way you want it - healthy and free from complications.
Above all, don't be afraid of appearing ignorant when it comes to something as "natural" as childbirth. The only truly stupid question is an unasked question!
Learn about childbirth preparation classes at:
Learn more about preparing for pregnancy at the National Women's Health Information website.