Preconception health should be a priority for women of childbearing age

The day a woman finds out she is pregnant can be one of the most exciting moments in her life — setting into motion plans for the baby’s birth and designs for the nursery. What some women fail to realize, however, is that the most important planning takes place long before a baby is conceived.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a woman’s health before conceiving a child, also known as preconception health, plays a very important role in the health of her pregnancy and the outcome of the baby’s birth. It can even effect a woman’s ability to conceive in the first place. Still, nearly half of American women say they’ve never been educated about preconception health and why it’s important, according to reports published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Preconception health should be a priority during a woman’s entire reproductive years because not all pregnancies are planned. The CDC estimates that nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned. That’s why it’s important for women to take their health seriously during their reproductive years.

Most women are four weeks pregnant by the time they find out they are pregnant. By then several processes have already started taking place relative to the formation of the baby. It’s between two to four weeks gestation that a significant portion of a baby’s organs — including the spinal cord and brain — have already started to develop.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said women should prepare for pregnancy before becoming sexually active — or at least three months before becoming pregnant. Some actions such as smoking cessation, reaching a healthy weight or adjusting medicines should start even earlier. The health department gives these five important steps women can take to boost their preconception health:

Eat Healthy — It’s important for women to eat a healthy diet and be at their optimal weight before conceiving. A woman who is overweight can be predisposed to certain conditions such as gestational diabetes or hypertension. Extra weight can also complicate the delivery of a baby, especially if it is a cesarean delivery.

Folic Acid — Take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day if you are planning or capable of pregnancy to lower your risk of some birth defects of the brain and spine, such as spina bifida.

Alcohol and Tobacco Use – Stop smoking tobacco and do not drink alcohol.

Address Medical Conditions — If you have a medical condition, be sure it is under control. Some conditions that can affect pregnancy include asthma, diabetes, oral health, obesity and epilepsy.

Check Medications — Talk to your doctor about any over-the-counter or prescription medications that you are taking to make sure they are safe during pregnancy. This includes dietary or herbal supplements. Also make sure that all vaccinations are up to date.

Environmental Concerns — Avoid contact with toxic substances or materials that could cause infection at work and at home.

Rashmi Bolinjkar, MD, is an OB/Gyn physician with Premier Health Specialists who practices at Upper Valley Women’s Center in Troy.

Rashmi Bolinjkar, MD, is an OB/Gyn physician with Premier Health Specialists who practices at Upper Valley Women’s Center in Troy.

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