Are You Ready for a Baby?
By Maria Dolan
Thinking about having a baby? Get your body in shape now before you get pregnant.
Boosting your health now will increase your chances of having a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby. Your health, age, weight, and diet are all things to consider.
What shape are you in now? If you’re managing health conditions such as thyroid problems, diabetes, or hypertension, visit your doctor to make sure they’re under control. And ask if any medications you’re taking will pose a risk when you’re pregnant. Even medications such as antidepressants should be considered. Now is also the time to get current on recommended immunizations.
Another consideration is your age. "Women over age 35 are at a slightly higher risk for pregnancy complications," says Group Health obstetrician and gynecologist Sarah Salemy, MD. Women in this age group should pay even more attention to reaching optimal health before they conceive.
That includes getting to a healthy weight. "Being either overweight or underweight can have adverse effects on your health and the health of your baby," says Dr. Salemy. A body mass index (BMI) between 18 1/2 and 30 is associated with lower risks in pregnancy. (You can find your BMI using our online calculator or ask your physician.) Getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day will help if you need to lose weight, and is also important for peak health.
Watch what you eat. Eating well should also become an important part of your routine. "We encourage adopting slower, long-term changes to your eating habits," says certified nurse-midwife Emily Ghilarducci. Drastic dieting can compromise your health and lead to an even bigger weight gain during pregnancy. Eat lean protein, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. Also begin taking 400 micrograms of folic acid to reduce the chance of spine and brain defects such as spina bifida. Or take prenatal vitamins.
On the "don't" list: alcohol and recreational drugs, which can cause serious defects in the growing fetus, and smoking, which can result in low birth weight and an increased risk for asthma and infections in the first year of your child's life.
Beyond your physical health. It's just as important to consider your emotional health. Think about what support you'll have in raising a child from family, friends, and in the workplace. If you are in an emotionally or physically abusive situation, get help before you get pregnant. Abuse tends to increase during pregnancy, says Dr. Salemy.
Good health habits now will pay off in the future. "It's a good example for any children you have," says Dr. Salemy. "If mom is healthy, kids probably will be too."