Before You Become Pregnant
If you are planning to have a child, you should see your doctor for a thorough physical examination before you attempt to become pregnant. One reason for this is that you may have a condition that can complicate your pregnancy, but that initially has no obvious symptoms (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or genital herpes). Your doctor can advise you about how to deal with any health problems before you try to become pregnant. You can also find out whether any medication you are taking could be harmful and if a safer substitute is available. If you are overweight, your doctor may advise you to slim down to prepare for the weight gain that will occur during pregnancy.
If you plan to become pregnant (or already are an expectant mother), a doctor or another health-care professional can also counsel you (and your partner) about prenatal care and help you evaluate your diet, physical activity, and lifestyle as it will affect your baby. During the time you are trying to become pregnant, you should avoid smoking and drinking alcohol, and either avoid caffeine or minimize it (no more than one cup of coffee a day), since these substances increase the risk of miscarriage and other complications. (Smoking also affects your chances of conceiving: according to a study from the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, a woman reduces her chances of becoming pregnant by 50 percent if she smokes even less than half a pack a day.)
Nutritional savvy: All women capable of becoming pregnant are also advised to consume 400 micrograms of folacin daily, from foods or supplements, in order to ward off birth defects such as spina bifida (see opposite page). Because spina bifida and similar birth defects occur in the first two weeks of pregnancylong before most women know they have conceivedwomen must start building up folacin stores at least 28 days before becoming pregnant. Since half of all pregnancies are estimated to be unplanned, it’s recommended that intake should be kept high at all times.