So you are ready to have a baby?

Published 3:29 pm Saturday, January 3, 2015

Bringing a child into the world will transform your life. It is one of the most precious gifts we are given as women. By planning ahead, you can make necessary changes to make this life changing event easier. When you decide to try to conceive, you should consult with your health care provider for a pre-conception physical. Your doctor can help to educate you about any testing or life style changes you should make before becoming pregnant.

Many women do not know they are pregnant until they are six or eight weeks along. By this time, many of the baby’s major organs have begun to develop. If you are living a healthy lifestyle while trying to conceive, this will not be a problem. However, many medications, tobacco, alcohol and non-prescription medications can be harmful to a developing baby. Educating yourself about these will help to prevent problems in an early un-detected pregnancy.

At a pre-conception physical, your health care provider will take a thorough history from you. This will include what medications you are taking, any medical problems you may have, surgeries that you may have had that could affect your pregnancy and a family history including any genetic diseases or birth defects. Your provider will also discuss any changes that are suggested before you become pregnant. This could include smoking cessation, or medication changes.

For women who suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus, or arthritis, it is very important to discuss how these health problems will affect your pregnancy. Often, your obstetrician will continue to consult with your specialist concerning your health care during your pregnancy with respect to your chronic disease. Women with diabetes should try to achieve optimal glucose control before becoming pregnant. Abnormal blood sugars can cause serious problems in pregnancy. Elevated blood sugars during the first eight weeks can cause birth defects. Continued uncontrolled diabetes during a pregnancy can lead to premature birth, and poor growth or rapid growth of a developing baby. Pregnant women who have poorly controlled diabetes are at risk for diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be life threatening.

When you are planning to conceive, it is important to ask your family members about any diseases or malformations that may run in your family. Your health care provider will ask about these diseases at your pre-conception visit and at your first prenatal visit. Some of these conditions include sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, heart defects, cleft lip or palate. If someone in your family has had one of these diseases, your baby could be at a higher risk for developing one of these conditions. There are many tests that are offered to women during the first part of pregnancy or prior to pregnancy that can test for many inherited conditions if a woman has a positive family history. It is important to share this information with your provider so that you can be made aware of any special testing you may need.

Many women do not include over the counter medications or herbal remedies in their medication history. Herbal remedies and non-prescription medications can also affect a pregnancy. Make sure to share all medications you are taking with your doctor to make sure these are safe during a pregnancy. It is ideal to stop any unsafe medications or remedies prior to trying to conceive.

When trying to conceive, you should maximize your health. This includes exercising, getting plenty of sleep and eating well. Women who live a healthy lifestyle are much more likely to conceive quicker. Eating a well-balanced diet will provide you with most of the essential vitamins you need to carry a healthy pregnancy. In addition to a healthy diet, you should include a prenatal vitamin or multi-vitamin before you become pregnant. Folic acid is a B vitamin that is important to the developing nervous system of a fetus. Women who are deficient in folic acid are at risk for having a baby with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.

Prenatal vitamins or multi-vitamins do not have to be prescription. The daily recommended amount of folic acid for women is 400 micrograms. Most vitamins for women will have this recommended amount. If you are taking a pediatric vitamin, you may have to double the dose to achieve the recommended dosage of folic acid.

Weight is an area of concern for many women. It is always a good idea for your health to maintain your weight in the normal range. As weight increases, becoming pregnant can become more difficult. Being overweight does not prevent you from being able to become pregnant. You may be at higher risk for some complications during your pregnancy. Women who are overweight are advised to gain little to no weight during pregnancy. Your health care provider can advise you about your recommended weight gain for your pregnancy.

Your previous pregnancy history is also important to share with your doctor. If you have had complications in past pregnancies, this may affect your current pregnancy. There may be precautions that need to be made prior to your pregnancy or very early in a current pregnancy to prevent recurrent complications. Early prenatal care can address these issues.

In today’s society, many women are waiting until later in life to try to become mothers. There is no set age that is unsafe for women to carry a pregnancy. However, as women become older, chances of becoming pregnant lessen. The chance of birth defects increases as women age. The risk for Down syndrome is 1 in 1,000 at age 30 and 1 in 400 at age 35. All women are offered genetic testing during the early part of pregnancy to test for certain genetic or chromosomal defects. If you are over the age of 35, you will be offered additional testing to rule out birth defects.

Your preconception visit is very important for a healthy, successful pregnancy. In addition to counseling, your health care provider can discuss your options for prenatal care. If you have certain high risk medical conditions, it may be necessary for your care to take place with a maternal fetal medicine specialist. However, most pregnancies can be managed by a general obstetrician.  Having a baby is a very special time. Establishing a relationship with your doctor prior to becoming pregnant will help to ease some of the anxiety associated with this exciting event.

Jennifer Calfee, MD is an obstetrician and gynecologist at Vidant Women’s Care Washington located at 1210 Brown Street and can be reached by calling 252-975-1188.