Pregnancy, although typically considered to be a nine-month journey, needs to be thought about long before conception happens. The first weeks of pregnancy are the most vital to baby’s development so if you are of child-bearing age you need to be in optimal health before conception occurs. If you don’t have your first medical appointment until the 12th week of pregnancy, your baby’s major organs and body systems are already developed or mis-developed.
The time a baby is most at risk from alcohol, street drugs, medications, or a poor diet, is from week 3 to week 8 after conception. During this time many women may not even realize they are with child and many of the negative effects on the unborn child cannot be reversed.
Begin to prepare your body and your life for an upcoming baby at least four months before conception is expected:
- Learn about the family health history on your side and your partner’s side.
- Certain types of birth defects and serious diseases are genetic in origin and it may be possible that you and/or your partner are carriers. There may be a need for pre-natal testing.
- Consider whether you are exposed to chemicals such as pesticides, cleaning products, and commercial toxins.
- Are you physically and mentally fit? You heart, lungs, and kidneys will have extra demands once a baby is growing inside you. Develop these organ’s health, capacity, and resilience before you tax them. And are you ready for the demands of another human being in your most intimate circle of life?
- Smoking accounts for 20-30% of low birth weight, up to 14% of preterm deliveries, and about 10% of all infant deaths according to the American Lung Association.
- The consensus today is that there is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy.
- Marijuana use during pregnancy can increase the chance of miscarriage, low birth-weight, premature births, developmental delays, and behavioral and learning difficulties.
- Some prescription medications may cause birth defects. Be aware and discuss the medications you are using with your healthcare provider. Once you are pregnant, over-the-counter medications must not be consumed until given the green light by a healthcare provider.
- Be aware that herbal remedies are not regulated and therefore there is virtually no research on the effects they have on pregnancy and fetal development. Discuss any herbs you may be taking with your healthcare provider.
- You don’t have to be a saint to be a candidate for motherhood but it doesn’t hurt to have a few saintly habits:
- Exercise by walking, swimming, bicycling, aerobics, and/or yoga.
- Read about pregnancy and child birth. The more educated you are the calmer, in control, and safer you will feel.
- Learn how to reduce and manage your level of stress with a practice of relaxation exercises, breathing techniques, and/or meditation.
- Get plenty of sleep. At least 8 hours per night.
- Eat healthy. Reduce sugar and processed foods, increase fibre and water, and take an appropriate supplement to make sure you are getting all the required nutrients for growing a baby. Folic acid can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects when taken before conception! Make sure you have an appropriate intake of calcium, iron, and protein.
- Visit a physician before you become pregnant. Some conditions can affect your pregnancy; such as, diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, thyroid conditions, and sexually transmitted infections. Other tests and screenings that are common during a preconception check-up are: pap smear, breast exam, identifying your blood type, and reviewing your immunity to rubella and chicken pox.