Planning a Pregnancy
Updated: Mar 1, 2018
Did you know that your general wellbeing and lifestyle choices can affect your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy and baby? A consultation with your GP for preconception care can be invaluable. Read on to find out more.
Why do I need to see a doctor when I am planning a pregnancy?
A healthy pregnancy begins with a healthy mum before pregnancy – getting reliable advice and a general health check up prior to conceiving can be very beneficial. Development of the baby starts often before you may even know that you are pregnant so planning ahead and being aware of factors that may be detrimental to your pregnancy can be advantageous to you and your unborn child. If you are already pregnant, do not be alarmed, most of this advice remains relevant for early pregnancy.
What lifestyle factors can impact on my pregnancy?
We know that lifestyle factors such as having a healthy diet and cutting down and even trying to eliminate on vices such as smoking, alcohol and caffeine can not only improve fertility but also health and wellbeing during pregnancy and in fact also the health of the baby yet to be conceived!
You are a product of what you eat and having a well balanced and nutritious diet including foods from all of the main food groups – fats, protein, fruit and vegetables and carbohydrates can help to ensure that you have no nutritional deficiencies.
Current guidelines recommend moderate intensity exercise of 30 minutes duration at least 5 times each week for all adults to optimise cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. This is particularly important for those planning to have a baby and can help you to manage the physical demands placed on your body during a pregnancy.
Being either over or underweight can affect ovulation and therfore impact on fertility. Being overweight can increase your risk of pregancy complications including gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Being underweight can result in poor fetal growth and preterm labour. Having a healthy diet and regular exercise can help you to maintain a healthy weight and improve your chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy.
Do I need any immunisations?
There are a number of infections such as Influenza, Rubella and Chicken pox, among others, which can be harmful if contracted during a pregnancy. Fortunately your doctor can arrange to check that you have adequate protection against these illnesses and organise vaccination prior to falling pregnant if necessary. It is often recommended that women wait 4-6 weeks following vaccination prior to conceiving – this can vary depending on the vaccine given and should be discussed with your doctor.
Do I need to take any Supplements?
Despite having an optimal diet some women can still be deficient in certain nutrients which are vital to a healthy pregnancy. These include Iron, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. It is useful to know prior to conception if these deficiencies exist so that they can be corrected with supplements. These can be measured with a simple blood test that can be ordered by your doctor.
Requirements for Iron are much higher during pregnancy and iron deficiency becomes a problem for many women. It is useful to have your iron levels checked prior to conception to ensure that you have adequate Iron storage for a healthy pregnancy. If your levels are low then supplementation can be introduced to ensure that this improves. Eating a diet that includes a variety of meat, leafy green vegetables, legumes and iron enriched cereals can help to maintain your Iron levels.
There is also emerging evidence in the medical literature about the importance of vitamin D during pregnancy. If a mother is vitamin D deficient this can result in vitamin D deficiency in her baby which can cause a disease called Rickets, which is poor mineralisation of bones. The major source of Vitamin D is sunlight. You would expect that living in Queensland, we would all have adequate vitamin D levels however deficiency is suprisingly common and should be ruled out prior to conception.
There are a number of vital building blocks, one in particular being folate, which are required in the very early stages of pregnancy to help develop a baby and reduce the risk of complications such as Spina Bifida. Studies have shown that the greatest benefit of taking pregnancy supplements occurs when these are commenced up to 3 months prior to conception. Women who are planning a pregnancy should take a supplement containing at least 400mcg of folic acid. Those who have a family history of Spina Bifida or other neural tube disorders are likely to require a higher dose of supplementation and should discuss this with their doctor.
Iodine is esential for the production of thyroid hormones and is important in the development of the brain and nervous system of the baby. Our body does not store Iodine and so regular intake is important to maintain levels – a daily supplement of 150 micrograms is recommended.
Those who have a restricted diet such as vegans or vegetarians, those who have food allergies and those who have had surgery for weight management may require additional supplementation and should discuss this with their doctor.
Are Medications Safe?
Did you know that the majority of medications that you can buy over the counter at your local pharmacy are not safe to take during early pregnancy and therefore should be avoided when trying to conceive? In many cases women may have an underlying medical condition which requires the use of medications – these should be discussed with your doctor when considering pregnancy to ensure that the safest options are chosen for you.
Alcohol and Recreational Drugs
Women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy are advised to abstain from drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs. Although the risk from low level drinking (1-2 drinks per week) is likely to be safe, as we are unable to identify a safe minimum, the current guidelines recommend complete avoidance of alcohol.
Make an Appointment
Preparing to start or grow your family is an incredibly exciting time and one that we spend a great deal of time and often planning for in terms of timing, finances and logistics but I strongly encourage you to also plan by optimising your own health and wellbeing prior to embarking on a pregnancy. See your GP early to discuss preconception care and screening.