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Getting pregnant: Being physically prepared

Many women don't realize they're pregnant until several weeks after conception, sometimes even longer. It's important to be practicing healthy habits even before become pregnant, because early pregnancy is one of the most vulnerable, delicate times for the developing embryo.

There are many things you can do to make sure you're in good physical shape to carry a child. Here are some of them.

Take folic acid supplements now to lower risk of brain and spinal cord problems.

You may already have heard that it's important for pregnant women to take folic acid supplements. Women who get enough folic acid have a much lower risk of giving birth to a child with brain and spinal cord problems.

It is during the first few weeks of pregnancy that folic acid has the greatest benefits in preventing spina bifida and other birth defects. All women of child-bearing age should take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Pregnant women should take 800 micrograms.

Foods rich in folic acid include green leafy vegetables, foods in the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts), some fruits (oranges, cantaloupe, bananas), milk, grains, organ meats (like liver) and dried beans.

If you smoke, do whatever you can to stop.

Smoking during pregnancy can cause miscarriage and bleeding. Your baby may be born too early and/or have low birth weight. Premature and low birth weight babies tend to have more developmental problems than full-term babies of normal weight.

Quitting smoking can be pretty difficult for most people. Maybe you've even tried before, but weren't successful. Don't hesitate to ask your doctor for help. It's better to go through the difficulty before you're pregnant rather than in the beginning of a pregnancy, when you may be feeling queasy or tired.

Learn ways to quit smoking.

Maintain a healthy weight.

If you're planning on becoming pregnant, it's a good idea to set a goal weight for yourself and do your best to reach that goal through healthy eating and exercise. Here's why:

  • Being underweight can make it harder than usual to get pregnant.
  • Being overweight can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy. You're also likely to be less comfortable as the pregnancy progresses.

Exercise is important before and during pregnancy. It conditions the mother for labor, helps prevent unnecessary weight gain and generally improves her overall health. Remember, check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Avoid alcohol and drugs.

Drinking beer, wine or hard liquor can cause your child to have fetal alcohol syndrome.

Taking illegal drugs increases your chance of miscarriage, premature births and birth defects of the baby. Sometimes a baby can be born addicted to drugs, and has to go through withdrawal after birth. If you are taking any illegal drugs, be honest with your doctor about it. It's the best way to get help as you try to stop.

Learn more about alcohol use during pregnancy.

Visit your doctor.

A visit with your doctor before you're pregnant is a great time to make sure your body is ready for pregnancy. This is the time to talk about any changes you should make to your diet and exercise program, especially if your weight is too high or low.

Your doctor can also evaluate your general health status, take your health history and find out whether there are any vaccines you should take, vitamins you should start, etc. It makes a lot of sense to get any problems you might have under control before the pregnancy begins.


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Source: American Academy of Family Physicians; American Academy of Pediatrics; US Food and Drug Administration

First published: 09/05/2000
Last updated: 10/14/2007

Reviewed by: Michael Slama, MD, Allina Medical Clinic-Coon Rapids Women's Health