Women's Health: Preparing For Pregnancy

Following these simple guidelines before pregnancy can benefit your own health and that of your baby.

If you're a woman who is thinking of trying to conceive, there are a number of actions you can take right now to improve your chances for a healthy, safe pregnancy.

Doctors recommend that any woman considering having a baby should make sure her immunizations are up to date, especially the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot.Other shots that may be recommended include the vaccines for tetanus and hepatitis B.Check with your doctor or gynecologist about which vaccines are right for you.After receiving any needed shots, your doctor will probably advise you to wait about three months before attempting to become pregnant.

Is your weight what it should be?Keep in mind that the more fit you are before pregnancy, the easier the pregnancy will be (physically, anyway) - and the sooner you will be able to return to your pre-pregnancy shape.However, as you prepare for pregnancy, be sure not to lose your excess weight through dieting - starving yourself now may compromise your pregnancy later.Plus, your body will need the proper balance of nutrients just to deal with the considerable stress of pregnancy.Adopt a sensible diet now, and both you and your baby will benefit later.

Any woman considering conceiving should also be taking a prenatal multivitamin.These specially-formulated supplements include folic acid, which is vital for preventing neural tube birth defects in developing fetuses, as well as calcium, iron and other vitamins and minerals at levels appropriate for pregnancy.Prenatal vitamins can be purchased at any health food store or pharmacy, or can be prescribed by your doctor.

If you smoke, use illicit drugs, or drink alcohol regularly, now is the time to get your bad habits under control.Smokers should stop smoking altogether before attempting to conceive; although an occasional drink early in pregnancy is unlikely to harm the fetus, most doctors recommend that you stop drinking altogether from the time that you begin trying to become pregnant.And the prospective fathers are also not off the hook - smoking, drug use and drinking are not only bad for the mother, but can affect the father's sperm count or even damage the sperm, either preventing pregnancy or leading to possible problems if a pregnancy does result.

Caffeine, although a lesser problem than cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, may affect a woman's ability to become pregnant, and is also not recommended for use during pregnancy (although some experts say that a pregnant woman can safely consume up to three cups of coffee a day, or the equivalent amount of caffeine in tea or sodas).Cutting back on caffeine use before pregnancy will ease withdrawal symptoms once you do become pregnant (when you'll probably have enough other symptoms to worry about!).

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs that you regularly use should also be scrutinized, since many of these drugs come with warnings about use during pregnancy.Check with your doctor about discontinuing harmful drugs before trying to conceive.In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you stop using these drugs as many as three to six months before you begin trying to become pregnant so that they can safely leave your system.

Finally, and on a more controversial note, some couples with a history of genetic disorders may wish to have genetic testing done to determine if they are carriers of these disorders or diseases.This is a highly personal decision and one that often involves the couple's religious or ethical beliefs, so such testing should not be undertaken lightly.

Following these tips will help you to be ready (or as ready as you'll ever be) for the healthiest possible pregnancy and childbirth.Good luck!

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