You may not be pregnant yet, but there’s plenty you can do now to make yourself as healthy as possible for a growing baby. Consider this your preconception to-do list:
Make an appointment with your doctor. It’s true that you’ll be seeing your doctor plenty after you conceive, but it’s a good idea to book a visit ahead of time, too, even if you’ve been pregnant before. If you have any health issues that could affect your chances of getting pregnant or that could make a pregnancy more risky, it’s important to get those under control now. If there are some diseases that run in your or your partner’s family, like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease, you might also want to see a genetic counselor or do preconception screening tests.
Check your gums. Good oral health is strongly linked to a healthy pregnancy. Studies have shown that gum disease is connected to having a baby who is born too early and too small. See a dentist to tackle any problems.
Quit smoking and drinking. You know that tobacco and alcohol during pregnancy are never OK -- they’re bad for a baby’s growth and can cause health problems for him when he gets older. But even now, smoking and drinking can make it harder to get pregnant and raise your risk of a miscarriage. Talk to your doctor about programs that can help you quit these habits.
Cut back on caffeine. Downing more than two cups of coffee or five cans of soda a day (or about 250 milligrams of caffeine) could make it harder for you to conceive and increase the chances that you’ll miscarry. Plus, switching to decaf now means you won’t have to deal with caffeine cravings during those first few weeks of pregnancy.
Eat smart. There’s no better time to cut out the junk food full of empty calories. Make sure you’re getting plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein every day. Research shows that a healthy diet before you conceive can reduce your risk of getting diabetes while you’re pregnant, called gestational diabetes.
Shed extra pounds. Being overweight or obese can make you more likely to have problems such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy). It’s generally not a good idea to lose weight while you’re pregnant, so start working on it now.
Get caught up on vaccines. Some illnesses during pregnancy won’t just make you feel miserable, but they could be harmful to your child. Talk to your doctor about the vaccines you need now and which ones you’ll need later. Doctors give some shots (like the Tdap vaccine for whooping cough) during pregnancy so that a baby can benefit from the protection, too.
Think about the meds you take. It’s important to let your doctor know about all the drugs you’re taking -- prescription, over-the-counter, even vitamins and herbs. Some of them could affect the baby in the womb. You’ll also want to start taking a prenatal vitamin or folic acid supplement to lower the risk of birth defects.
Get picky about seafood. You’ve probably heard that it’s smart to steer clear of fish that are high in mercury while you’re pregnant. But it can take up to a year for your body to clear the element from your blood. Fish on your plate twice a week is fine, but pass on the kinds that have a lot of mercury like swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark.
Hit the gym. Not only will exercise help you get to a healthy weight, it’ll also get you into shape for labor and delivery. Once you’re expecting, look for special prenatal classes that are safe for pregnant women.