What No One Told You: Preconception & the First Trimester
Prenatal Care Before and During Your First Trimester
Becoming a parent is an exciting time of change, growth and learning. To help you feel empowered and prepared to welcome a new member to your family, we sat down with Dr. Andrew Stahler, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist with Baptist Medical Group. In part one of our series, “What No One Told You About Having a Baby,” Stahler discusses what you need to know about preconception care and the first trimester of pregnancy.
Preconception: Planning for a Baby
Your health before pregnancy is called your preconception health. Being healthy before pregnancy can increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy, labor and delivery, and baby. If you want to try to have a baby, there are certain things you can do to prepare.
Take some personal health measures.
Start your pregnancy off right by getting your body ready at least three months in advance of becoming pregnant.
“I like to call it ‘act like you’re pregnant,’” said Stahler. “If you’re trying to conceive, don’t do things you wouldn’t do if you were pregnant. For example, don’t smoke, drink alcohol or take illegal drugs.”
You can also boost your preconception health by doing the following:
- Exercise 20–30 minutes per day
- Work out your pelvic floor (Kegel exercises)
- Eat a diet high in fiber, fruits, vegetables and low-fat forms of protein
- Drink eight to 12 cups of water per day
- Eat enough calories (about 300 calories more than normal)
- Reduce stress
Talk to your doctor about your medical conditions.
Some medical conditions can increase your risk of pregnancy complications and birth defects, so it’s important to discuss a health plan with your doctor if you have one or more of these conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Overweight or obesity
- Psychiatric illnesses
- Epilepsy or seizure disorders
“It’s also important to talk to your doctor about any medications you’re taking, because some medications are not safe to take if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant,” said Stahler.
Birth defects can happen before you know you’re pregnant.
To decrease the risk of birth defects like neural tube defects, preterm delivery and others, you can take the following steps before becoming pregnant:
- Talk to your doctor about existing health conditions and medications you take
- Make sure you’re up to date on your vaccinations
- Take folic acid
- Get to a healthy weight
- Get a genetic health screening
First Trimester: Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal vitamins are supplements that contain daily vitamins and minerals needed before conception and during pregnancy—such as folic acid, iron, vitamins A, C and D, zinc and others. So, who needs to take a daily prenatal vitamin, and when?
According to Stahler, any person with a uterus who is of reproductive age and may want to become pregnant should take prenatal vitamins—even if they are not actively trying to get pregnant.
“The reason is because of the folic acid contained in prenatal vitamins,” said Stahler. “Multiple studies have shown that supplementation with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day can decrease the rates of neural tube defects by at least 50%.”
Neural tube defects are severe birth defects of the brain and spine. Whether you might become pregnant soon or down the road, prenatal vitamins can help your body get the folic acid it needs for healthy fetal development.
Prenatal vitamins don’t help you get pregnant.
A prenatal vitamin is not a magic fertility pill, and it won’t make you any more likely to get pregnant. However, starting a prenatal vitamin before conception can reduce the chance of not only neural tube defects but also heart defects, limb deformities and cleft palate, according to research published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.
You don’t need to take the biggest prenatal vitamins.
“Horse pills aren’t any better than other forms of prenatal vitamins,” said Stahler. “You can take what you’re comfortable with, whether it’s a chewable tablet, gummy or pill format. You don’t have to take the biggest vitamin on the market. Some prenatal vitamins are available in smaller forms and are meant to be taken twice a day.”
A prescribed prenatal vitamin could be right for you.
Some women with certain health conditions may need higher doses of specific supplements. Depending on your medical conditions and medical history, your doctor might prescribe a prenatal vitamin instead of recommending you purchase an over-the-counter variety.
“If you’re unsure if you need a prescription for prenatal vitamins, talk with your doctor,” said Stahler.