It's reassuring to know that only a small percentage of babies are born with serious health problems. However, couples who do advance planning before conception can increase their confidence that their pregnancy outcome will be healthy and happy.
If you are ready to have a baby, a preconception consultation can maximize your chances of having a healthy newborn.
It's a good idea for couples to arrange a consultation with a doctor at least three months before trying to conceive. This is important even for women who get regular Pap tests or breast exams.
A preconception consultation involves a complete medical history and physical exam, as well as a review of family history, any previous pregnancy experiences, and current medications.
In addition, your doctor will identify risks and factors that could affect your ability to conceive or have a healthy baby. Your doctor will also discuss the transition from birth control. It usually takes from 6 to 12 months for a couple in good reproductive health to conceive.
"While not all problems are preventable, chances of a healthy birth are greater if both mother and father are healthy before the pregnancy begins," explains Kimberley Fillmore, MD, OB/GYN on staff at John Muir Health.
"It's important to discuss medical disorders, past obstetrical history, and even the medications you are taking," says Ryan Anderson, MD, OB/GYN on staff at John Muir Health.
"Couples with a family history of genetic disorders such as muscular dystrophy or spinal bifida can receive genetic counseling to understand their chances of passing on the condition to their offspring."
Screening for sickle cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease is appropriate with special ethnic groups. Pregnancies in women over 40 may be higher risk, but in general, women retain their ability to have healthy babies into their 40s.
Identifying risks, getting certain medical conditions under control, and making necessary lifestyle changes are best for women to handle before conception. Women with chronic diseases such as diabetes can avoid developing problems in pregnancy through preconception planning.
Women should get treatment for high blood pressure before pregnancy because it is involved in a number of dangerous pregnancy complications.
Similarly, doctors can rule out or treat sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before conception. STDs may affect a woman's ability to conceive or harm the developing child. Some medications impair efforts to conceive, and others may cause birth defects.
Immunizations and Tests
It's vital to find out if all the mother's immunizations are up to date. Infection with measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis, or toxoplasmosis during pregnancy poses a serious threat to the baby, as do vaccines to treat these conditions.
Your doctor may also order special blood tests to measure anemia, iron deficiency, and Rh factor.
If you observe the following healthy behaviors, you improve your chances of having a healthy baby:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Take multivitamins containing folic acid before and after conception.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Exercise about 30 minutes a day most days of the week before you get pregnant, and work with your doctor to set up a safe exercise program during pregnancy.
- Avoid cigarettes, alcohol, and non-prescription drugs four months prior to conception and during pregnancy. (While trying to conceive, both partners should avoid cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, for maximum benefit to the baby.)
- Avoid exposure to toxins or radiation at work.
"For women today, having children is more of a conscious decision, whereas it was of a routine nature for women in the past," Dr. Fillmore emphasizes. "Preconception planning with a physician can be a valuable part of the process."
Dr. Anderson adds, "This is equally true for women who have already had children. New information is always surfacing. Even an experienced mother can benefit by having preconception counseling."