by Meredith Kemper, MD, Sanford Clinic Women’s Health
You have a lot to consider as you and your partner begin to consider adding a new life to your family. Before you start saving for your child’s college fund, you will want to engage in preconception planning with simple steps you can take to minimize the risk of complications in your pregnancy.
Preconception care is a critical component of healthcare for men and women of reproductive age. The main goal of preconception care is to provide preventive healthcare, screening and interventions for individuals in reproductive age. It can also help identify risk factors that might occur during pregnancy. Consider these questions as you begin to plan for your family:
When should you consider preconception planning?
Thinking ahead for a baby can begin anytime. Since approximately half of all pregnancies are unplanned, a woman should always be prepared for pregnancy.
What does preconception care encompass?
To help you prepare for a baby, your healthcare provider will help you identify identifiable risk factors or things you should be concerned about before becoming pregnant:
- Smoking – It is important to stop smoking before conceiving a child.
- Alcohol use – Cut down or stopping using alcohol before becoming pregnant.
- Start prenatal vitamins - You may want to consider beginning a prenatal vitamin right away. The folic acid in prenatal vitamins is vital to your baby’s development.
- Consider your medical conditions – Your healthcare provider will help you identify any medical conditions that may need to be managed or optimized before becoming pregnant. Examples include diabetes or high blood pressure. These things need to be controlled before becoming pregnant in order to optimize your pregnancy.
- Getting immunizations – Be sure your immunizations are up to date. You’ll want to discuss vaccinations for influenza or hepatitis as well.
- Diet – A healthy diet is key to a healthy pregnancy. Start your pregnancy right by eating a healthy diet before you conceive.
- Daily habits – Exercise and sleep are important to have you healthy and rested before you begin a pregnancy.
Why are prenatal vitamins important?
Prenatal vitamins contain an array of multi-vitamins. A prenatal vitamin adds an additional folic acid and is important for fetal growth – it is especially important for brain and spine growth.
What can men do to prepare for conception?
Men are somewhat overlooked in preconception; however men provide the important component to the conception. They too could have medical conditions that could affect their sperm production and their overall health. Men need to do some similar things to women:
- Quit smoking
- Cut down on alcohol consumption
- Discontinue any drug use
- Review prescriptions to identify any medications that may be harmful to a pregnancy or medications that a woman should not be exposed to during pregnancy.
What are some other factors partners should consider throughout this screening process?
Men and women both need to look at their family history – looking at genetics factors or abnormalities in their families. Examine these factors, talk with your physician and undergo screening if there are genetic abnormality concerns.
What are some of genetic factors families should investigate?
We know that certain ethnicities are predisposed to certain abnormalities or conditions. In Caucasian populations there is an increased risk for Cystic Fibrosis. The best thing to do is talk with your physician about these items and they can decide at that time what testing, if any, you need to undergo.
When does a woman’s age become a risk factor for pregnancy?
Pregnancy at age 35 or above slightly increases the risk for complications during pregnancy. Some of those complications include high blood pressure, diabetes and a woman’s chances of having a miscarriage slightly goes up.
Planning for a new baby is an exciting process. Be sure to make an appointment with your healthcare provider part of your pre-baby plans.