Preparing for baby begins long before you become pregnant. In fact, it is important that women who are considering pregnancy, and even those who are not, work with their healthcare provider to make sure their health is the best it can be. Speak with your healthcare provider today, especially if you are planning to start a family in the future.

There are many ways to become healthier before pregnancy. The following is a checklist of some of the first steps you can take toward getting healthy before getting pregnant.

  • Eat a low fat diet and exercise regularly (for 30 minutes, at least five days a week).
  • Get adequate sleep (seven or eight hours a night for most people).
  • Manage and reduce stress.
  • Start taking a prenatal vitamin that contains 400 mcg to 800 mcg of folic acid before and during pregnancy.
  • Do not take any illegal drugs or any legal drugs that have not been prescribed for you.
  • Stop drinking alcohol and quit smoking.
  • Address social support concerns you may have, including domestic violence.
  • Check your home for hazardous chemicals that could affect your health such as lead, mercury, carbon monoxide, and pesticides.
  • Talk with your supervisor if you have concerns about potential hazards at work.
  • Get up-to-date on vaccines.

You should also speak with your health care provider, and be sure to cover the following important topics.

  • Discuss family planning and birth control.
  • Let your health care provider know if you’ve had any problems with prior pregnancies.
  • Your health care provider can help you understand how health problems that you or your family members may have affect or are affected by pregnancy.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about any other medical or mental health conditions you may be concerned about.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about medicines you use, including prescription, over-the-counter and herbal or natural supplements.

Women may know that improving their health once pregnant is important; however many women may not know that improving their health before pregnancy – even long before actually considering pregnancy – is also important for the health of a mother-to-be and her baby.

Talk to your VA provider about preconception care services that focus on the important steps you can take now, before pregnancy, to protect your health and the health of the family you may want to have in the future.

You can also develop and share with your health care provider a reproductive life plan that can help you consider if and when you want children. VA also offers contraception (birth control) care. If you are not ready to become pregnant, work with your healthcare provider to choose contraception that is right for you. Visit VA’s pregnancy resource page for more information on preconception and contraception care.

Patricia M. Hayes is the Chief Consultant for Women’s Health Services (WHS) for VA, advocating for and overseeing the delivery of VA health care services for more than 360,000 women Veteran health care users.

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