Things to Think About Before You’re Pregnant

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Why is being ready for pregnancy so important?

Conception occurs about 2 weeks before your period is due. That means you may not even know you’re pregnant until you’re more than 3 weeks pregnant. Yet, your baby is most sensitive to harm 2 to 8 weeks after conception. This is when your baby’s organs (such as the heart) begin to form. Anything you eat, drink, smoke, or are exposed to can affect your baby. That’s why it’s best to start acting as if you’re pregnant before you actually are.

When should I talk with my doctor about pregnancy?

You can talk with your doctor about pregnancy at any time, even before you’re thinking about getting pregnant. You can talk about your diet, habits, lifestyle, and any concerns you have. Plan on visiting your doctor within one year before you want to get pregnant. At that time, you may be given a physical. You and the father-to-be will probably be asked about your medical history. You’ll both have the chance to ask your doctor questions.

What should I eat?

What you eat will also feed your baby. Junk food like potato chips, soda, and cookies won’t have the right nutrients for your baby. You want to make sure you get plenty of calcium, folic acid, protein, and iron. Talk with your doctor about what nutrients you need and how to get them.

You might also need to make some changes if you follow a vegetarian or weight-loss diet. Talk with your doctor before taking extra vitamins and minerals. Some may actually be harmful, like high doses of vitamin A or E.

Folic acid

Women who don’t get enough folic acid during pregnancy are more likely to have a baby with serious problems of the brain or spinal cord. It’s important to take folic acid before becoming pregnant, because these problems develop very early in pregnancy (3 to 4 weeks after conception). Women need about 0.4 mg of folic acid a day. You can take a multivitamin or eat plenty of green, leafy vegetables, and fruits like oranges, cantaloupe, and bananas, as well as milk, and grains.

What about weight?

If you’re overweight, your risk during pregnancy is higher for things such as high blood pressure and diabetes. You may also be less comfortable during pregnancy, and your labor may be longer. If necessary, use the time before getting pregnant to lose extra weight.

Is exercise okay?

Yes. The more fit you are, the easier your pregnancy and delivery may be. However, if you exercise too much, it can make getting pregnant harder. Overdoing it once you’re pregnant can be dangerous. If you haven’t been exercising, start before you get pregnant. While you are pregnant, you can probably keep up a light exercise program. Walking every day is good exercise. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan that is best for you.

Do I need to change my habits?

Using tobacco, alcohol, or drugs can seriously harm your baby and can even cause a miscarriage. If you use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, get help from your doctor to quit.

Smoking. Smoking can cause miscarriage, bleeding, premature birth, and low birth weight. It’s also linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), in which infants suddenly die of no obvious cause. Children of smokers may also do less well on IQ tests, and their physical growth may be slower.

Alcohol. Drinking during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD can lead to many birth defects, including mental problems, slow growth, defects of the face, and a head that is too small. Doctors do not know how much alcohol it takes to cause FASD, so it is important to avoid alcohol completely during your pregnancy.

Illegal drugs. Using marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and birth defects. With some drugs, the child will be born addicted to the drug that the mother abused and will go through withdrawal.

The hazards of heat

Some research has shown that high heat—from a fever, hot bath, or hot tub—may be harmful during the early weeks of pregnancy. It is best to avoid bathing or soaking in hot water, particularly during the first trimester.

Am I around things at work or at home that could be harmful?

There are certain materials that a woman who is pregnant should avoid. Some dangers include:

  • radiation (computer screens doesn’t seem to be harmful);
  • heavy metals like lead, copper, and mercury;
  • carbon disulfide;
  • acids; and
  • anesthetic gases

Talk with your doctor about your workplace and home environments to find out if there are any dangers. If anything could harm your baby at work, you may be able to use special clothing or equipment to protect your baby, or you may be able to get a short-term transfer before and during pregnancy.

Cats and toxoplasmosis

You may have heard that pregnant women shouldn’t clean a cat’s litter box. A parasite that causes a disease called toxoplasmosis can be spread through the feces of cats. Toxoplasmosis isn’t usually harmful to children and adults, but it can cause birth defects, including blindness and brain damage. You can also get toxoplasmosis by eating raw or undercooked red meat or touching dirt, such as when gardening, that has been contaminated by cat feces.

Is it okay to take medicine?

Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines can affect your baby. Ask your doctor before taking prescription or nonprescription (such as aspirin) medicines.

If you need to take medicine often because of health problems (such as asthma, epilepsy, thyroid problems, or migraine headaches) talk with your doctor about your treatment and any risks during pregnancy.

What tests may I need before I get pregnant?

You may need some tests to find out if you have problems that could harm you or your baby during pregnancy. Many things can be treated before pregnancy to help prevent problems for you and your baby.

Rubella. If you don’t know whether you’ve ever had rubella (also called the German measles) or been vaccinated against it, a blood test can give the answer. Catching rubella while you’re pregnant can be very harmful for your baby. You can be vaccinated against rubella before you get pregnant.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and AIDS can make it hard for you to get pregnant and can also harm you or your baby. It is best if these diseases are diagnosed and treated before pregnancy.

Other problems. Your doctor may also want to perform some other tests depending on your risk for other problems (such as anemia or hepatitis).

What if I have health problems?

Diabetes, high blood pressure, or problems with your circulation may need extra care during pregnancy. It’s often easier to treat problems or get them under control before you’re pregnant.

Will my baby be at risk for genetic problems?

Your baby may be at risk for certain problems or diseases that run in your family. Cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia are some examples of conditions that can be inherited. These problems aren’t caused by anything you do during pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors and whether screening tests are needed.

From the moment of conception to the time of delivery, your growing baby goes through several stages of development before he or she is ready to be born. Here’s what happens during the first trimester of pregnancy.

When does pregnancy begin?

Pregnancy begins when a sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg. Since you don’t always know when fertilization happened, doctors calculate pregnancy based on the first day of your last menstrual period (LMP). Your doctor will count forward 40 weeks from the LMP to estimate your due date (most births occur between weeks 38 and 42). If you have an ultrasound to look at your developing baby early in your pregnancy, your doctor may measure the baby to determine your due date instead.

What happens after the sperm fertilizes the egg?

After conception, your baby begins a period of dramatic change known as the embryonic stage. This stage runs from the 5th through the 10th week of the first trimester of pregnancy. During this stage, the baby is called an embryo.

What changes occur during the embryonic stage?

During this stage, all of your baby’s major organs and body parts begin to develop. The cells of the embryo (called embryonic stem cells) multiply and change into the hundreds of different types of cells needed to make a whole human body.

The placenta also develops during the embryonic stage. The placenta takes nutrients, oxygen and water from your blood and passes these along to your baby through the umbilical cord. It also removes the baby’s wastes. The placenta will filter out some—but not all— of the harmful substances that may be present in your body.

The amniotic sac develops during this stage, as well. This sac is filled with amniotic fluid, and forms inside your uterus to surround and protect your baby.

Some of the highlights of your baby’s development during the embryonic stage include:

  • Nervous system. This is one of the first things to develop during the embryonic stage. This means your baby’s brain, spinal cord and nerves form during this stage.
  • Heart. An S-shaped tube forms on the front of the embryo. This will become your baby’s heart. At first the heart does not beat, but soon it starts beating and pumping an early form of blood.
  • Face. Your baby’s facial features take shape during the embryonic stage. The eyes and ears form on the sides of the head and are linked to the brain. The eyes move forward on the face, and eyelids form to protect the developing eyes. Pieces of tissue grow and join together to create the forehead, nose, cheeks, lips and jaw. The nasal passages, mouth, tooth buds for the baby’s first teeth, and a tongue with taste buds also develop.
  • Arms and legs. At first, your baby’s arms and legs begin as little buds sprouting from the embryo’s sides. As they grow, the arms look like paddles and the legs like flippers. A ridge appears on the end of each one, eventually becoming fingers and toes.
  • Sexual organs. Cells that will become your baby’s eggs or sperm form. Your baby’s penis or vagina is visible at the end of the embryonic period, but it’s not yet possible to tell on an ultrasound if your baby is a girl or a boy.
  • Muscles and movement. Muscles develop and the embryo begins to move. At first it’s only twitching and reacting to touch. Once the nerves and muscles start working together, your baby can start moving on purpose.

By the end of the embryonic stage at week 10, the embryo will be about 1 inch long. That’s still too small for you to feel your baby’s movements. You’ll probably feel them starting in the middle of the second trimester.

What happens after the embryonic stage?

After the embryonic stage, the fetal stage begins and your baby is called a fetus. During the fetal stage, which runs from the 11th week until birth, your baby will grow longer and gain weight fast, and organs and body parts will continue to develop.

The last 2 weeks of the first trimester are the beginning of the fetal stage. In those weeks, fingernails and toenails form and the kidneys start working. By the end of the 12th week, which is the end of the first trimester, your baby has tripled in length to about 3 inches long