Visit your doctor to make sure that you and your partner are in good health, to find out if you need any tests done and to make sure that you’ve had all your vaccinations, especially for rubella (German measles) which can cause birth defects if contracted during pregnancy. If you have to be vaccinated against rubella, delay falling pregnant for at least three months.
All couples have on average a 3-4% risk of having a child with birth defects, mental retardation or genetic disorders such as Huntington’s Chorea, Cystic Fibrosis, haemophilia and Down syndrome. Speak to your parents to find out whether there is a family history of these inherited disorders. Also ask about a history of recurrent miscarriages, any stillbirths or early childhood deaths. Discuss these concerns with your doctor or a genetics specialist.
Improve your diet
Make sure you eat three balanced meals a day consisting of foods from all four food groups. Good nutrition can improve your chances of conceiving and having a healthy baby.
If you smoke or use drugs, now is the best time to quit. Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or caffeine (more than 300mg of caffeine per day may reduce fertility by 27%). All these substances can cause problems with the pregnancy and even birth defects.
Stock up on folic acid
Folic acid, a vitamin B, is important to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. As it takes a while to build up sufficient amounts of folic acid, it is a good idea to start taking supplements. A non-pregnant woman should take 0,4mg daily and a pregnant woman, 0,8 – 1mg. Also eat folate-rich foods such as fortified breads and cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, citrus fruits and whole grains. Folic acid supplementation must begin four weeks before conception and maintained throughout pregnancy, but at least up to the eighth week.
Reach your goal weight
As dieting is not recommended during pregnancy, it is best to reach your recommended weight before you fall pregnant. Underweight women have a greater chance of having low birth weight babies and overweight women are more at risk of developing high blood pressure or diabetes. Aim to lose 0,5-1kg a week which is a safe rate of weight loss.
Take a vitamin tablet
Complement your diet with a good antenatal vitamin supplement to ensure that you get all the vitamins and minerals you need. Ask your doctor to recommend one.
Don’t wait until you’re pregnant to get fit. Start exercising long beforehand. You need to be fit as pregnancy puts a huge strain on the heart. Regular exercise will also make it easier for you to get through labour and will prepare you for the strains of pregnancy. Do aerobics exercises 3-4 times a week and exercises to strengthen your stomach and back muscles. Remember to consult your doctor before you start with your exercise programme.
Keep away from toxins or radiation
Limit your exposure to toxins or radiation. Speak to your doctor if you are unsure about what is dangerous.
Good excuse not to clean cat litter
Cat litter can carry toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can cause birth defects. This is a good time to delegate this chore. Wear gloves when you work in the garden if there are cats in the neighbourhood. Uncooked meat is also a source of toxoplasmosis, so avoid eating it or handling uncooked meat without gloves.
Talk to your doctor if you are taking prescription medicine. Your doctor may decide to alter treatment.
Psych yourself up for pregnancy
Start preparing yourself mentally for pregnancy and parenthood. Think about the changes in your lifestyle and career. Pregnancy and parenthood can put a great strain on a relationship. Now is the time to discuss pregnancy and parenting issues with your partner and to resolve any problems you may have.
Watch those herbs
Certain herbal remedies can interfere with fertility. Discuss the use of all herbal medication with your doctor.
Avoid take-aways, soft cheeses, pâté and smoked seafood
All these could contain the germ Listeria monocytogenes. This could result in premature birth, miscarriage, stillbirth and other long-term health complications in your newborn.