Maximizing Preconception Health

Couple with a positive pregancy test

Being your healthiest self both before and during pregnancy maximizes you and your baby’s chance for good health. Establishing a preconception health plan that focuses on optimizing your physical and mental health before trying to conceive is important. All women (and men, too) benefit from preconception health, regardless of plans to have a baby, because part of preconception health focuses on getting and staying healthy overall throughout your life.

Research shows prenatal care makes a difference for a healthy pregnancy. Women who don’t seek prenatal care are 3 times as likely to deliver a low-birth-weight infant plus experience birth complications. Lack of prenatal care can also increase risk of infant death.

Additionally, no one anticipates an unplanned pregnancy, yet it happens often, with about 50% of all U.S. pregnancies being unplanned. Women who plan their pregnancies are more likely to get healthy before pregnancy and get prenatal care during pregnancy, 2 important factors which can greatly reduce risk of birth defects.

Some important facts about birth defects:

  • Birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the U.S., or 1/3 of babies born yearly.
  • Each year, total hospital costs for U.S. children and adults exceed $2.6 billion directly due to birth defects.
  • Birth defects cause 1 in every 5 deaths, or 20% of overall infant mortality, during the first year of life.

January is designated National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Your Capital Women’s Care team offers important information about developing and starting a preconception health plan and outlines vital tips for optimizing your preconception health to help prevent birth defects and lead to successful delivery of a healthy baby.

Initiating a Preconception Health Plan

Call your local Capital Women’s Care team to schedule an appointment to establish a personalized preconception health plan. You can prepare for your visit by noting your own preconception health goals before your appointment.

Preconception health care is individualized, depending upon your unique needs. Based on evaluation of your personal health, your Capital Women’s Care practitioner will make recommendations, treatment or follow-up care as needed.

Ideally, you should devise a preconception health plan at least 3 months prior to trying to conceive. Doing so helps you optimize your own personal health, which gives you best chances for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Your Capital Women’s Care practitioner will take stock of your present health, including a physical exam, screenings and bloodwork if appropriate and ask you specific questions concerning your lifestyle, mental and physical health and overall wellbeing.

You’ll be asked about:

  • your medical history, including those of your blood relatives, as genetic conditions (like sickle cell and some heart defects) could influence your baby’s health.

  • any personal pregnancy history if applicable plus those of first-degree female relatives (mother and sister.) This also includes any pregnancy complications and fertility issues.

  • your current medical conditions and treatments. If you currently have any medical conditions, be sure they’re under control and being treated. Some of these conditions include sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), diabetes, thyroid disease, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases.

  • your prescribed medications (including over the counter and herbals.) Taking certain medicines during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. These include some prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary or herbal supplements. If you’re planning pregnancy, you should discuss the need for any medication with your Capital Women’s Care practitioner before becoming pregnant and make sure to take only necessary medications approved by your doctor.

  • your vaccination records, as some vaccines are recommended before you become pregnant, during pregnancy or right after delivery. Correct vaccination timing can help keep you healthy plus help keep your baby from getting very sick or having lifelong health problems.

  • your lifestyle. Talk with your Capital Women’s Care practitioner if you smoke, drink alcohol, or use certain drugs; live in a stressful or abusive environment; or work with or live around toxic substances. Your practitioner can help you with counseling, treatment and other support services.

  • your mental health. It’s important to address constant feelings of sadness, stress, anxiety or worry anytime throughout your life, as well as before becoming pregnant. Being mentally healthy and vigilant about addressing overwhelming negative feelings affords you a good mindset so you may embrace and enjoy your life.

  • your physical health. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight prior to pregnancy reaps many health benefits for you and your baby and lessens likelihood of pregnancy complications. Ask your doctor about how you can incorporate exercise and a healthy diet during pregnancy as well as throughout your life so you can increase chance of healthy pregnancy and baby, enjoy optimal physical health and even a longer quality lifespan.

Preconception planning and following your doctor’s prescribed care provides you greatest opportunity to achieve optimal physical and mental health before you become pregnant, helping to safeguard you and your baby’s health throughout all stages of pregnancy.

Tips to Maximize Preconception Health

There are many things you can do to increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy and baby during preconception and continue throughout pregnancy:

  • Exercise daily. Discuss your current physical activity level with your practitioner during your preconception health visit. Moving your body at least 4 to 5 times a week is another great way to prepare for pregnancy. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity for a total of 150 minutes each week. If you’re not currently active, choose something light like walking. Start with just 10 to 15 minutes at a time and work your way up to longer durations. Be sure to initiate recommended daily exercise now and continue doing so throughout your life.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Be sure to get proper nutrition, as your diet also supports your baby’s health. Eliminate excess salt, sugar, animal fats and processed foods. Choose whole fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins instead. Talk with your doctor about taking prenatal vitamins, including folic acid. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states pregnant women are 10 times more likely than other healthy adults to contract listeria from contaminated foods. Start reading labels on your favorite foods now to make sure they are pasteurized. Additionally, limit caffeine to no more than 12 ounces daily and increase water intake.

  • Limit toxins exposure. High amounts of toxic exposure can be dangerous for a developing baby. Try to lower your exposure to common offenders by avoiding synthetic fragrances, going Bisphenol-A (BPA)-free (found in certain canned foods), choosing chemical-free home and personal care products, skipping certain beauty services, make your own household cleaners using water and vinegar and toss makeup products containing parabens, sodium laureth sulfate and mercury.

  • Quit tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Smoking, using drugs, and drinking alcohol can harm an unborn baby. Smoking exposes your baby to harmful chemicals, restricts blood flow and may even cause preterm labor. Drinking puts baby at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Using drugs (heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana, etc.) isn’t only illegal, but also may cause birth defects, miscarriage or stillbirth.

  • Practice stress relief. Establishing good stress relief outlets now will help you during pregnancy and in the hectic first year of your baby’s life. To stave off stressful feelings, take a relaxing walk, practice some deep breathing exercises or enjoy a favorite activity or hobby.

  • Try yoga. Yoga has many benefits for your fertility. Taking on a regular yoga practice may help with your emotions and anxiety related to the conception process. You’ll also strengthen and stretch your body in preparation for pregnancy.

  • Get your ZZZZZZZZ’s. Many parents worry about sleep in the days after they bring home their bundles of joy. But sleep during pregnancy can be just as elusive. Plan relaxing, soothing bedtime rituals to help you get 7 to 8 recommended hours of quality sleep.

  • Get up to date on your checkups. Now is an opportune time to prioritize your healthcare needs. Schedule any tests, screenings or checkups before pregnancy to get you on track with your health. This includes visiting the dentist. During pregnancy, the hormones in your body may affect your gums and teeth. Good brushing habits pre-pregnancy can help ward off pregnancy gingivitis and cavities.

  • Know your monthly cycle. Talk with your practitioner about how to eliminate birth control and follow their directives. Keep tabs of your monthly period to gain understanding of when you’re most fertile to help you become pregnant faster. Understanding your cycles helps you discover things that may need to be addressed (spotting, irregular lengths, etc.)

  • Boost your immune system now. During pregnancy, you’re more susceptible to colds, the flu and other illnesses. Give your immune system some extra help by eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, getting vitamin C and resting.

  • Have your partner checked. Though much of a healthy pregnancy has to do with women, it’s a good idea for men to get checked out, too. Around 30% of infertility cases are due to male factors. Men should schedule a physical, eat healthfully, exercise, stop smoking and taking other drugs and limit alcohol.

  • Communicate with your partner. You may conceive in your first cycles of trying, but it often takes couples much longer to see a positive sign. Before you start trying to conceive, make sure you’re being open and honest with your partner. Talking about any issues or frustrations you have on your road to becoming pregnant is the key to keeping your relationship healthy.

  • Enjoy spontaneous sex. Resist turning sex into a chore from the start. Have it often and for fun. Be spontaneous and passionate. Creating sound lovemaking habits now will help strengthen and build your relationship with your partner. If you don’t have known fertility issues, don’t worry about timing sex at first. Instead, have frequent unprotected sex throughout your cycle.

Your Capital Women’s Care team offers personalized reproductive and obstetric care and treatment, from preconception planning to the delivery of your baby. We are here to answer your questions relating to reproductive health or any women’s health issue. Our community of women’s health experts are deeply committed to providing you and your family with comprehensive, quality care so you achieve and enjoy optimal health and a long, quality life.


Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


Go to top