If you are planning to start a family, there are several important reasons why you should first visit a doctor.
Ideally, these visits should be done at least three months before falling pregnant. This is to give you and your partner plenty of time to make any necessary lifestyle changes and ensure that you’re in optimum health. This is what’s known as preconception care and its goal is to help boost fertility, reduce any problems during pregnancy and assist in a quicker recovery from birth.
Get immunisations early
It’s important to make sure that your immunisations are up-to-date before you conceive, because most vaccines should not be administered while pregnant, as there is a risk of harming the foetus. One exception is the influenza vaccine, which can be administered to pregnant women and is provided free of charge under Australia’s National Immunisation Program.
The following immunisations should be maintained in order to protect yourself and your baby from serious health risks:
- Chicken pox
- Whooping cough
- Hepatitis B.
Obtain the right treatment for existing health conditions
If you have an existing health condition—such as diabetes or epilepsy—your doctor may recommend making some changes to your current medications during pregnancy. Other existing health conditions—such as the sexually transmitted infections chlamydia and syphilis— don’t have any visible symptoms, so it’s important to get tested if you’re planning to fall pregnant.
If you’re not sure, it’s always best to make sure you’re keeping on top of treatment plans ahead of time—just in case. Prior to pregnancy, your doctor will perform a blood or urine test and will advise on the best course of treatment if the results are positive.
It is important to talk to your doctor about any genetic conditions that may run in your family (like cystic fibrosis) and to ask about genetic testing if you have any concerns. If you have a Rhesus negative blood type and you have been pregnant before, this may create a risk of Rhesus disease. While this does not cause any harm to a mother, research has shown that it can severely affect a baby’s blood cells and result in it developing jaundice, anaemia, or in severe cases, heart or liver failure. Fortunately, it’s very straightforward to prevent this from happening— your doctor can provide you with something called anti-D immunoglobulin to prevent your baby from developing this disease. It is usually injected into the mother’s thigh.
Don’t be late in taking folate
Australia’s Department of Health recommends that you start taking folate supplements as soon as you and your partner have made the decision to start trying for a baby. Folate is important because it reduces the risk of a baby developing problems with its nervous system, such as spina bifida. A baby’s neural tubes begin to form almost from the moment it is conceived, and before a woman has missed her period and is aware she is pregnant—so start taking sooner rather than later, if possible.
Trim and terrific
Another thing worth thinking about is developing an exercise routine if you don’t already have one, because it may be more difficult to form new habits once you’re pregnant.
Women who exercise before pregnancy have a lower risk of developing complications such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy. Exercise also lowers the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and makes it less likely your baby will develop diabetes and obesity as an adult.
Exercise has benefits that go beyond the physical. It does wonders as a mood booster, which is important during a time of great change for your body. It also gives you more energy, improves sleep quality and reduces stress. If you find it difficult to lose weight, your doctor may be able to give you a referral to a dietician and exercise physiologist.
Stub it out
Quitting smoking before you conceive is one of the most effective ways to protect your baby and yourself from serious complications during pregnancy. Quitting smoking increases your chances of conceiving naturally and without delay, as well as making a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy or premature birth less likely.
Passive smoking can harm a mother and her baby, so a smoke-free household means a healthier family. Another reason why men should quit is because doing so will improve sperm quality. Research has shown that smoking can cause male erectile dysfunction.
To get help to stop smoking, call the Quit Hotline on 13 78 48.
Healthy mind, healthy body
Pregnancy is an exciting, but sometimes overwhelming time for new parents, so it’s important to make sure that you are feeling happy and healthy before the hormones start running wild. You may want to talk to a professional if you’re experiencing any relationship problems or feeling depressed or anxious. The same applies if you’re experiencing financial difficulties, substance abuse or domestic violence. Health professionals are there to help you work through any issues, while pregnancy support groups can be enormously helpful.