Protect Your Pregnancy Before You Conceive

Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on December 18, 2017
From the WebMD Archives

Many women know they need to take extra care of their health during pregnancy. But if you know you want to try to have a baby, it’s a good idea for you and your partner to start making some changes about 6 months before you actually get pregnant.

That “creates the foundation for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby,” says Sherry Ross, MD, an OB/GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.

Go through this to-do list as you’re getting your body ready for baby.

Stop Lighting Up

Smoking makes it harder for you and your partner to get pregnant. “Men who smoke have a lower sperm count and abnormal-shaped sperm,” Ross says.

Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to miscarry. Your baby may also be born too early or have a low birth weight, which can cause other severe health problems. Your child’s odds of having sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) also go up if you use tobacco.

And although e-cigarettes may have fewer toxins, they still have nicotine, which prevents a baby’s brain and lungs from growing the way they should. You’ll need to stop using them, too.

It’s best to start early -- it often takes about 30 tries to kick the habit for good.

Watch Your Weight

Being overweight or underweight makes it tougher for you to conceive. The closer you are to a healthy weight before pregnancy, the less likely you are to have problems like diabetes and high blood pressure. It also lowers the chances that your baby will be born too early, have spinal defects, or grow larger than normal inside you, says Randy Fiorentino, MD, an OB/GYN with St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, CA.

Know your BMI (body mass index) and a good weight for your body type. Regular exercise can help you reach your goals. So will a diet that’s mostly vegetables, fruits, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Need help cleaning up your diet? Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist.

Take Your Vitamins

Doctors used to tell women to take folic acid as soon as they got pregnant. Now, experts suggest starting a prenatal vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid before you try to have a baby. This important nutrient prevents spinal defects in growing babies.

See if your prenatal vitamin has DHA. This type of omega-3 fatty acid can help the health of your baby once you get pregnant. You need 200 milligrams of it every day during pregnancy. Some prenatal vitamins have it, but not all of them. So ask your doctor if you should take a separate DHA supplement.

Your doctor could also suggest extra vitamin D. If you’re low, you may have trouble getting pregnant in the first place.

Find Out Your Family History

Have any of your family members had a child born with birth defects, diabetes, seizure disorders, or developmental issues? Now’s the time to find out and let your doctor know. It will affect what tests they suggest you have.

For instance, Tay-Sachs is a rare disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord. It’s most common in people of Ashkenazi (Eastern and Central European) Jewish heritage. If it runs in your or your partner’s family, a blood test can tell if you or your partner carries the gene for the condition, and the chances that you’ll pass it on to your child.

Stop Drug and Alcohol Use

Illegal drugs like cocaine and meth (methamphetamine) have chemicals that are harmful during your planning period, Ross says. The same is true for marijuana, even though it’s legal in some states.

Men who smoke weed, for instance, have a lower amount of sperm for weeks after they stop. Women who smoke have a harder time getting pregnant than nonsmokers.

Heavy alcohol use (8 or more drinks a week or 4 at once) also affects your fertility. It’s not clear whether the occasional beer or glass of wine affects your chances of getting pregnant. But experts say your safest bet is to give up booze completely when you’re trying to conceive. There’s no safe amount of alcohol for a growing baby, and you may not know that you’re pregnant for a few weeks or months.

Cut the Caffeine

More than 500 milligrams of caffeine (about 3 to 4 cups of coffee) each day may cause trouble when you try to conceive. One study found that women and their partners who have more than two caffeinated drinks each day in the weeks before getting pregnant were more likely to miscarry. While smaller amounts of caffeine every day may not be harmful, “we counsel our patients to avoid it if possible,” Fiorentino says.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you have a medical condition, let your health care provider know you want to start trying for a baby. “The more we know about your health conditions, the more we can optimize them prior to pregnancy and lower the effect they may have on your baby,” Fiorentino says.

Your doctor will also need to know all the medicines and supplements you take, including prescription drugs and anything you buy over the counter. If any will pose a risk to your unborn baby, they can suggest others.

Don’t Rely on 'Dr. Google'

While it’s easy to jump online to find instant answers to any questions you have, “the Internet is full of myths regarding pregnancy and prenatal care,” Fiorentino says. “Many … opinions broadcast by social media storm can quickly turn from myth to ‘fact.’ ”

Before you take what you read online to heart, ask your doctor about it.

Show Sources


Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN and women’s health expert, Providence Saint John’s Health Center, Santa Monica, CA.

Randy Fiorentino, MD, OB/GYN, St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, CA.

G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, OB/GYN, MemorialCare Orange Coast Memorial Center, Fountain Valley, CA.

Postgraduate Medicine: “The Effects of Cigarette Smoking on Male Fertility.”

CDC: “Tobacco Use and Pregnancy,” “Planning for Pregnancy,” “Alcohol Use in Pregnancy,” “Fact Sheets -- Alcohol Use and Your Health.”

BMJ Open: “Estimating the number of quit attempts it takes to quit smoking successfully in a longitudinal cohort of smokers.”

American Journal of Clinical Medicine: “Preconception Counseling to Prevent the Complications of Obesity During Pregnancy.”

American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “Maternal obesity and risk of neural tube defects: a meta-analysis.”

BioMed Research International: “Maternal Obesity and Recurrence of Fetal Macrosomia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”

March of Dimes: “Vitamins and other nutrients during pregnancy.”

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Good Health Before Pregnancy: Preconception Care,” “Moderate Caffeine Consumption During Pregnancy.”

Molecular Nutrition & Food Research: “Vitamin D deficiency and pregnancy: from preconception to birth.”

National Institutes of Health: “Tay-Sachs Disease,” “Couples’ pre-pregnancy caffeine consumption linked to miscarriage risk.”

National Human Genome Research Institute: “Learning About Tay-Sachs Disease.”

F1000Research: “Substance Use During Pregnancy.”

Mayo Clinic: “Caffeine content for coffee, tea, soda and more.”

American Journal of Epidemiology: “Association Between Use of Marijuana and Male Reproductive Hormones and Semen Quality: A Study Among 1,215 Healthy Young Men.”

Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology: “Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility.”

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