Taking Care of Your Body
Clean Up Your Act Before Conception
There's nothing like a fetus to keep you honest. No matter how much health
sense you might choose to ignore when the consequences are only yours, it's a
different ballgame with a baby on the way. So it's natural for women to shun
unhealthful substances or behavior during pregnancy.
But prenatal sages have a new message these days: You'd better come clean
The standard pregnancy do's -- eat right, cut out cigarettes and alcohol,
ease up on caffeine -- should all crank into gear three months before
conception, not after the fact, experts warn. "Pregnancy is no longer nine
months -- it's 12," says Dr. Robert Cefalo, a maternal-fetal medicine
specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and coauthor of
"Preconceptional Health Care: A Practical Guide."
Why all the fuss? Allowing extra prep time to deal with medical, social or
environmental factors that could complicate your pregnancy is critical because
it's during the very early weeks after conception -- when most couples still
don't know they're pregnant -- that a baby's organs are developing. "The
fetus is most sensitive to any little adverse event or drug between 17 and 56
days," Dr. Cefalo says.
If you are thinking about getting pregnant, consider these factors
Make sure you're up-to-date on annual physical and dental exams, and
schedule a preconception exam with your OB-Gyn to review any medical
conditions, lifestyle habits or hereditary diseases that could complicate your
pregnancy. Your doctor will want to know, for example, if you have diabetes,
high blood pressure or another condition that needs to be closely monitored
while you're pregnant.
"In reality, the vast majority of women are perfectly fine, but it's
just a good idea to get all of this on the table beforehand to minimize
anything unexpected," says Michael Zinaman, director of reproductive
endocrinology at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago.
Your doctor also will scrutinize medications you may be taking to make sure
they aren't harmful because even some over-the-counter drugs, like some nasal
sprays, can cause birth defects. And if you're taking birth control pills, you
may be advised to use another method until you've had two normal periods before
you attempt pregnancy; this will reduce the risk of miscarriage.
The few extra months can help because some conditions are more difficult --
or even impossible -- to resolve during pregnancy. Vaccination for rubella
(German measles), for instance, must be administered at least three months
before getting pregnant. Even minor surgeries or X-rays, which may take time to
schedule, are safer to get out of the way before conception, says Dr. John
Queenan, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Georgetown
University School of Medicine and author of "A New Life" and
"Preconceptions: Preparation for Pregnancy." It also takes time to quit
smoking and drinking, and to rid the body of harmful toxins.