Editor's Note: The following is part four of our "Too Embarrassed to Ask" series.
Making healthy lifestyle choices before you conceive can decrease your risk of complications during pregnancy and increase the chances of having a healthy baby. Making changes now will benefit you and your baby in the future. Below are five tips to consider before getting pregnant:
- A healthy diet – A well-balanced diet that consists of all food groups is important to supply the nutrients necessary for your body to grow, replace worn-out tissue and provide energy. This diet should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and dairy in appropriate amounts. Limit foods that are high in sugar and fat.
- A healthy weight – Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight prior to pregnancy is an important goal. Carrying excess weight in pregnancy can put you at risk for pregnancy and childbirth complications, including blood pressure problems, preterm birth and gestational diabetes, as well as an increased risk of birth injury and cesarean delivery. Being underweight can increase your risk for a low birth weight baby and preterm labor.
- Vitamin supplements – All women of child bearing age should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day by taking a daily multivitamin containing folic acid, which has been found to help prevent neural tube defects. It is also beneficial to switch to a prenatal vitamin supplement (available over the counter) before pregnancy to provide all the recommended daily vitamins and minerals you will need before and during your pregnancy.
- Exercise – Regular exercise is important for good health at any time in your life. An established exercise routine prior to pregnancy can be continued during pregnancy with adaptations as needed. If you need to get started with exercise, take it slow at first and try walking, swimming or bicycling. Talk to your health care provider before starting a strenuous work out program.
- Substance use/abuse – If you smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or take drugs, it is important to stop use prior to becoming pregnant. The fetus is most vulnerable to the harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol and drugs during the first trimester (first 12 weeks) of pregnancy, and many women don’t realize they are pregnant until after one or two missed periods. Secondhand exposure can also put you and your developing fetus at risk. If you need assistance to quit – ask for help and support from your health care provider.
Cindy Haugsdal is a certified nurse practitioner in the OB-GYN department on the Albert Lea campus of Mayo Clinic Health System – Albert Lea and Austin.