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    5 Things to Do Before You Try to Conceive

    Have you made a pre-pregnancy to-do list? If not, you should, says Dr. Yvette Smith in WebMD's Trying to Conceive Community. Carrying out a short, practical list of health-boosting actions can have a big impact on your pregnancy.

    Smith suggests these 5 items that should go on every woman's preconception to-do list:

    1. If you are using a hormonal form of birth control, stop 3 months in advance. This allows hormones from birth control pills, the vaginal ring, the patch, hormonal injections, and skin implants to flush out of your system, so your natural menstrual pattern can be re-established. Irregular bleeding may occur for a month or two after stopping hormonal birth control. Stopping a few months ahead helps prevent irregular bleeding while you're trying to conceive, which can be confusing and frustrating.

    2. Review your personal and family medical history, and your partner's. Smith says it's a good idea to schedule a preconception visit with your obstetrician before trying to get pregnant. This allows you the opportunity to assess:

    3. Make sure you're getting enough folic acid. Taking folic acid may decrease spinal cord defects by more than 50% for parents with no family history of them. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women begin taking 400 micrograms, or 0.4 milligrams, of folic acid daily, at least one month before trying to conceive. If you have a family history of spinal cord defects, talk to your obstetrician about taking a higher dosage, Smith says.

    4. Eat healthfully and exercise regularly. If you haven't already, develop these good habits that you can continue throughout your pregnancy. If you need to lose weight, start a healthy weight loss plan.

    5. Nix bad health habits now. If you're a smoker, quit or cut back -- such as from a full pack to a half-pack a day -- until you've stopped completely. Talk to your health care provider about your alcohol intake. Stop illicit drug use or excessive drinking before trying to get pregnant. Even periodic excessive drinking can hurt an unborn child, Smith says. So don't take chances with your child's future.

    One member of the community heartily agreed with Smith's suggestions for making important changes months in advance. She shared how women she knows have continued smoking and drinking while trying to conceive. Yet they don't see a correlation between their unhealthy habits and the lack of success they experience at trying for a baby. She states, "You can't 'shock' your body into good habits AFTER you find out you are pregnant," and has made some of Smith's suggested changes in her own efforts to conceive.

    Are you making personal changes to prepare for conception? Are you having difficulty making some changes?

    Discussion led by Yvette Smith, MD, MPH Guest Expert
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