Physical preparation for pregnancy
You don’t need to be a top athlete to have a baby – but it’s a great idea to get your body ready before you try to conceive.
Have a look at your lifestyle – do you have a healthy diet? Are you getting regular exercise? Do you smoke or drink coffee or alcohol? What medications, herbal preparations or drugs (legal or otherwise) do you take regularly?
And although women need to prepare their bodies for pregnancy, men play a pretty important role in the conception stage, so it’s worth making sure you are both involved in getting physically ready.
Regular gentle exercise can usually continue throughout conception and pregnancy; it is usually wise to discuss your exercise routine with your doctor to make sure that you can keep up your present activity.
Eating and Drinking when you’re planning for pregnancy
Prepare your body to make and carry a baby. Cut down on harmful extras like alcohol, coffee, tobacco and non-essential drugs.
Women should also try to increase their intake of folic acid (a vitamin present in green leafy vegetables and some cereals) for three months before they try to conceive, to prevent neural tube defects. Keep up the folic acid intake until three months into a pregnancy; many good folic acid supplements are available in pharmacies.
Men aren’t off the hook when it comes to eating sensibly; sperm take 75 days to develop, and some researchers recommend that men ensure they are eating a healthy diet that includes adequate zinc and selenium (or take a multivitamin) for at least three months before conception.
Sometimes health advice can be confusing. Some research suggests that high levels of mercury in some seafood can be particularly bad for couples wanting to become pregnant, however many experts note that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon are very good for you and vital for a baby’s brain development.
If you’re confused, talk to your doctor or a trusted nutritionist.
Try to plan a visit to your doctor before you start trying for a baby. Knowing your medical history, doing some simple tests and identifying some precautions that you in particular may need to take, can make your pregnancy planning much more smoothly.
Before you visit your doctor, though, there’s some information that you need to gather.
Make a detailed list of your medical history
It’s worth making the struggle to recall those long-forgotten childhood illnesses. Have you had measles, mumps or rubella? What is your immunisation history?
What other illnesses have you had? Any sexually transmitted diseases that either partner has experienced may be relevant; also note any surgery or chronic conditions for either of you.
Talk to your parents and your partner’s parents – or perhaps other relatives – to find out more detail about both your childhood illnesses – and also, your families’ genetic histories. Are there twins in the family? What about inherited diseases?
Some diseases are particularly relevant to pregnancy; for example, are you predisposed to diabetes or heart disease? Gather information about serious illnesses that you have had or that appear regularly in your family – like high blood pressure, cancer, epilepsy, kidney disease or arthritis.
A woman’s gynaecological history is important at this time; you will be asked about menstrual patterns, sexual history, pap smear history, use of birth control and any previous pregnancies, miscarriages, abortions or births, and about any other gynaecological issues. If you haven’t kept a menstrual diary in the past you might consider doing so now.
Sometimes, delving into your family history may uncover information about blood relatives with hereditary disorders. Family history may mean that you may (or may not) have a greater risk of passing on genetic disorders (like cystic fibrosis), chromosomal disorders (such as Down’s syndrome) or congenital defects (like cleft palate).
Some of the more common genetic diseases include haemophilia, thalassemia (more common in those with a Greek heritage), Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anaemia (more common in those with an African heritage), and cystic fibrosis.
A specialist genetic counsellor can help you understand your risk of passing on a hereditary disease and how you might manage this risk or what other decisions you might make. Other reasons to seek genetic counselling may include a history of repeated miscarriages or a blood relationship between partners.
The Pre-pregnancy Doctor’s Visit
At this visit, you can talk to your doctor about your plans and have a full medical check-up. A basic examination will include heart-rate, blood pressure, a breast check and pap smear (if this is due.)
Even immunised women may lose immunity, so you may face another vaccination and then a three-month delay in conception to prevent your baby being exposed to the virus, which is still quite common.
In pregnancy, rapid hormone changes can trigger all sorts of reactions; you can discuss these with your doctor in light of your own medical history.
Having a record of your blood pressure before pregnancy also makes it easier to monitor changes in blood pressure during pregnancy that may indicate potential problems.
Discuss your current contraception with your doctor so that you have a plan in place for stopping contraception before trying to conceive. If condoms or diaphragms are used, little planning is required, but those on the pill or with an IUD or implanted contraceptives may need to stop contraception anything up to a few months before attempting to conceive.
You can also talk to your doctor about your plans for pregnancy care; you may choose to be referred to an obstetrician, a midwife, a hospital birth centre or to have shared care between your General Practitioner and a specialist.
Financial Planning – preparing for a family
It’s true, babies don’t need much in the early days, despite the tons of baby accessories available in Nigeria. The most difficult thing for most couples to handle is the loss of income when the baby’s primary caregiver stops work. If you both choose to continue working, daycare/crèche can also be very costly.
Planning your work for pregnancy and baby
Some careers are more family-friendly than others. If you are in a role that you don’t wish to continue during pregnancy or beyond, you may want to think about how you will handle this. In some companies, permanent employees must be employed for twelve months before they are eligible for maternity leave. So, make sure you have considered the implications of pregnancy if you are thinking about changing your work plans.