Pregnancy is an exciting time for any woman. If you are preparing to get pregnant, it is essential to take special care of yourself so you and your baby will be healthy. Taking care before and during pregnancy can improve the chances of a smooth pregnancy and having a healthy baby.
Pre-pregnancy care or preconception care is the care taken before getting pregnant. The purpose of preconception care is to assess any potential risks to you and your baby and to treat any medical conditions you may have before conceiving. Your partner also requires preconception care to improve sperm health, and to increase your chances of conception and having a healthy baby.
Following a healthy diet, including certain supplements, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are recommended as a part of the pre-pregnancy care.
Pre-pregnancy health assessment
During a pre-pregnancy health assessment, your doctor reviews your medical history, reproductive history, diet, lifestyle and other habits, and performs a thorough physical examination. Your physician may order certain blood tests (full blood parameters, iron and ferritin levels) and urine tests (for sugar, protein and infection) to check your health condition. During your pre-pregnancy health assessment, the following will be assessed:
- Medical conditions: A thorough medical examination before pregnancy helps in diagnosing any medical condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, anaemia, kidney disorders, thyroid diseases and heart problems, which may affect you and your baby. Your physician will advise you on certain measures to control them.
- Infections and vaccinations: During pregnancy, you will be more susceptible to infections, which can sometimes cause serious birth defects or illnesses in your baby. You may be tested for various infections such as measles and chicken pox and advised vaccination before pregnancy.
- Immunisation: You will be tested for hepatitis-B virus. If you are a carrier, blood tests will be performed to identify the virus so that your child can be vaccinated at birth.
- Hereditary disorders: In women with a family history of hereditary disorders such as haemophilia, sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis and thalassemia, the chances of a child developing these conditions is high. Therefore, before planning for pregnancy your doctor may suggest that you and your partner undergo certain tests to identify these diseases. This is usually followed by genetic counselling.
Following your assessment, your physician provides certain recommendations and guidelines that you can practice to ensure better chances of conception and a safer pregnancy. Some of these include:
- Maintain healthy and hygienic habits.
- Eat a healthy, nutrient rich and well-balanced diet.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Take nutritional supplements as recommended by your doctor, such as folic acid, to prevent birth defects in your child.
- Take vaccinations for rubella (German measles), varicella (chicken pox) and hepatitis B at least one to six months before pregnancy.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Being overweight or obese increases the risk of medical complications such as elevated blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
- Being underweight decreases your chances of conceiving, and increases your risk of having a low birth baby and problems during labour.
- Regular exercise helps you to maintain an ideal weight and is beneficial for you and your baby’s health.
- Keep your medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy under control.
- Avoid caffeine, smoking, drinking alcohol, use of habit-forming drugs, certain medications, and excessive exposure to gases, chemicals, heavy metals and radiations (X-ray).
- Keep your home and workplace environment safe and comfortable.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
- Improve your mental and emotional health by avoiding stress and practicing relaxation techniques.
This is a good time to discuss all your pregnancy-related and other health-related concerns with your physician.