By: Susan Whalen
During pregnancy, a woman tends to give thought to her health, but the truth is, the best way to have a healthy baby is to think about good health before pregnancy. This idea is called “preconception health,” and refers to the importance of women’s health throughout their lives, especially through their reproductive years.
Preconception health is also important for men. Chronic health problems, exposure to chemicals, smoking, and the use of drugs or alcohol are all things that could affect a man’s ability to have healthy children now and in the future. Fortunately, men and women both can take simple steps to make sure they are as healthy as possible—whether they want children, now, later or not at all.
Make a reproductive plan. All men and women, regardless of whether or not they are trying to conceive, should make a reproductive plan. Nearly half of all pregnancies in California are not planned and could happen at a time when a man or woman’s health or social situation is not ideal for becoming a parent. Both men and women should think about how many children they want, and when they would like to have them. Also, men and women should decide which family planning method is best until the time is right to have a family.
Get medical conditions under control. Some conditions that can affect pregnancy or become more serious during pregnancy include asthma, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, poor oral health, epilepsy, and mental illness.
Space out pregnancies. Having children at least two years apart gives a woman’s body time to build back-up to optimal health before starting another pregnancy. Children also benefit from having two years of one-on-one time with parents and caregivers before another sibling comes along.
Strive to achieve a healthy weight before becoming pregnant. Achieve a healthy weight by eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains and exercising for at least 30 minutes every day.
Stop smoking, drinking, or using drugs. These can increase the chance of problems in pregnancy and can have long term effects on child development.
Avoid contact with toxic substances or materials. Look for and use household cleaners and products that are non-toxic.
Take folic acid. Women should take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day throughout their reproductive years to lower the risk of birth defects. To receive the full benefits of folic acid, women should take it prior to pregnancy.
Take care of your teeth and gums. Visit your dentist at least once a year. Problems with your teeth and gums can affect the health of your entire body.
Once women become pregnant, they should see a doctor as soon as possible for prenatal care. Starting prenatal care early and seeing a doctor regularly throughout the pregnancy is an important way to stay healthy and have a healthy baby.
Contributing to good health for future generations is not difficult. Everyone can take simple steps to promote good health anytime.
For more information and materials, visit the website: www.everywomancalifornia.org.
Susan Whalen is the Senior Health Education Specialist with Solano County Maternal, Child & Adolescent Health under Solano County Health & Social Services which is a member of the Solano Coalition for Better Health