This post was written by Erin Norton, RN, BSN, MBA, director, Community Outreach, Parkview Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
What do the new year and pregnancy have in common? Both are times when people consider improving their health. It’s natural to look ahead and think about the future when you’re at a “beginning.” What will the next 12 months have in store? If you are considering having a baby, here are some recommendations to start the new year out right. And don’t forget, when we’re talking about long-term, healthy lifestyles for families, there are benefits to both moms and dads being on board.
Ditch the nicotine
There has never been a better time to stop smoking. The health risks of tobacco use are well known, but you may not be aware of the ways smoking affects infants. Maternal smoking increases the risk of babies being born too early or too small. Smoke in the environment after delivery also increases the risk of Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID). Learn more about smoking cessation resources.
Get a check-up
How long has it been since you’ve had a physical? If you’re considering having a baby, it’s important to get an update on your overall health and a visit to a primary care provider is a great place to start. This is an opportunity for you to develop a relationship with your provider, discuss your concerns and make sure any chronic issues are being managed properly.
Focus on folate
Folate (vitamin B-9) is important during the early stages of pregnancy and can help decrease the risk of birth defects. Folate is found in dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, oranges, lemons, bananas, melons and strawberries. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends pregnant women get 600mg each day. Since this is hard to achieve through diet alone, a folic acid supplement is recommended. Be sure to start taking it at least one month prior to pregnancy for maximum benefit.
Nutrition and exercise
Yes, this list includes the obligatory discussion about diet and exercise! You knew it would. If you aren’t sure where to start, increasing your vegetable intake is usually a safe bet. Drink water instead of soda or other sugary drinks. Walk more. The important thing is to start. A body mass index (BMI) in the normal range is associated with fewer pregnancy risks. This is a great topic to discuss with your provider at the physical you just scheduled.
If you haven’t gotten your COVID-19 vaccine, make a plan to get it. Do it today. It is also good to talk to your provider about any other immunizations you may need. While COVID-19 is in the news, vaccines protect us from many other serious illnesses as well.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Welcoming a baby into your family is stressful even under the best circumstances. Get screened for anxiety and depression. Talk to your provider. Consider seeing a counselor. Take time each day to practice self-care. If you are struggling with substance use, seek help.
It is wise to review any and all medications and/or nutritional supplements with a provider prior to pregnancy and develop a plan for what should and shouldn’t be taken if a pregnancy would occur. Sometimes women find out they are pregnant and immediately stop taking a medication out of fear that it could hurt the baby. While the intent is good, this isn’t always the best action. Plan ahead and consult a medical professional.
If you will be traveling to areas where you might be exposed to certain infectious diseases, like Zika, you should check out the recommended waiting time before trying to conceive.