Getting Ready To Get Pregnant

If you're planning to have a baby in the next year or so, you'll want to do more than think of potential names. "A healthy pregnancy, not to mention a healthy baby, starts months before you get pregnant," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, CT. Here's how to get your body in baby-making shape.

Pop a prenatal pill.
"It takes a month or two to build your body's reserves of folic acid, which prevents birth defects," says Dr. Minkin. Since you may get pregnant before you expect to, it's best to start taking a multivitamin or a folic acid supplement with 400 mg now.

Hit your healthiest weight.
Women who have diabetes and are overweight—meaning their body mass index, or BMI, is higher than 23—during pregnancy have a much higher risk of having a child with a birth defect, says Dr. Minkin. They also up their own odds of pregnancy complications like high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.

Break a sweat.
The jury's still out on whether exercise makes labor go faster. But one thing's for sure: "It makes going through pregnancy a heck of a lot easier," says Dr. Minkin. Your heart has to work about 50-percent harder when you're pregnant, she says. "If you're in shape, you'll feel less winded than if you're not." Dr. Minkin's quick check: If you can walk four miles in an hour, you're fit enough to handle the strain that pregnancy puts on the body. If you can't, you'll want to start logging more time at the gym to improve your fitness level.

Get tested.
Within the six months before you plan to start trying to conceive, you'll want to get a pap smear to check for the human papillomavirus (HPV) and other cervical abnormalities that could cause pregnancy complications. While you're there, ask your doctor to test for gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia, too, particularly if you or your fiancé have had another sexual partner in the past year, or if one or both of you have never been tested for these, advises Dr. Minkin. If left untreated, these STDs can cause pregnancy and delivery problems for both you and your baby.

See your doctor.
It's best to schedule a preconception visit with your ob/gyn about four to six months before you plan on trying to get pregnant. "Your doctor can help you determine which medications you should stop taking before trying to get pregnant and what kind of genetic counseling or testing you may need," says Dr. Minkin. "She can also explain how to figure out when you are ovulating using drugstore ovulation tests or noting body changes such as your temperature and cervical mucus."

Squash unhealthy habits.
Smoking decreases fertility and can lower your baby's birth weight, so it's best to quit now. You'll also want to go easy on the sauce: "Having a drink or two while you're trying is okay, but if you drink more than that after you get pregnant, you increase your child's risk of birth defects," says Dr. Minkin. Your guy should let up, too—heavy drinking can decrease sperm count, making it harder to conceive.

Call your insurance company.
Make sure your policy covers prenatal care and delivery—and if it doesn't, start shopping for a new plan, stat. Ask about preconception visits, too; many insurers don't pay for them, so you may have to foot the bill on your own.

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