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Pregnancy Planning: Take These Steps to Create a Healthy Pregnancy, Labor, and Birth

Jan 13, 2022 | 5 Minute Read

Do you know that the healthiest pregnancies start long before conception? Preconception health focuses on things you can do before and between pregnancies to increase your chances of having a healthy baby. Learn more about the following checklist as you take the steps to plan and conceive the healthy best pregnancy possible.:

Pregnancy Planning Checklist

  • Make a plan.
  • Choose a pregnancy care provider you would like to work with.
  • Learn your family’s health history.
  • Identify and make note of any current medical conditions such as high blood pressure, overweight or obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, or chronic health problems.
  • Audit your lifestyle and habits, including whether you use substances like medical marijuana or drugs, drink alcohol or live or work in a toxic chemical environment.
  • Make a list of all of your current medications, including supplements and herbs.
  • Begin taking a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of Folic Acid.
  • Reach and maintain the healthiest weight possible.
  • Get help if there is violence in your home.
  • Get mental health support if you often feel worried, sad, anxious or stressed.

Whether this is your first or fifth baby, each time you try to conceive there may be different health questions or actions you need to address for the healthiest pregnancy possible. Every pregnancy is different, just as each one of your children has their own unique characteristics and personalities.

Select your Pregnancy Care Provider

Before getting pregnant, learn about the various pregnancy care providers in your locale, and what birthing options may be available to you. Are you going to birth in a hospital or, a birthing center, or do you want a home-based birth?

If you are hoping to birth in water, for example, you may find that only certain pregnancy care providers support this option and not all birthing facilities may have birthing tubs, for example.

Learn about the resources available at local hospitals and birthing centers in your community. Practices and options may vary from facility to facility. You may find the differences to be significant depending on the facility. Is it a teaching hospital (with residents and students), trauma center, or a birthing center? All those various types of facilities may have very different philosophies about the birthing process. Be sure your selected providers and delivering facility line up with your desires, plans, and desired birthing experience.

Medical Conditions

If you currently have any medical conditions, be sure your pregnancy care providers are aware of your desire to start a family. They may advise that you possibly change a medication for one safer in pregnancy, and they can help you create your plan of care to get you well prepared for your pregnancy. Having your primary care provider assisting with the management of your healthcare is essential especially if complications or problems arise during pregnancy.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices Support Healthy Pregnancies

It’s important that your lifestyle supports a healthy safe environment for a new baby. Before you even try to conceive your baby, pregnancy experts at the CDC recommend you begin taking a prenatal vitamin to protect your baby against the most common birth defects that occur in early pregnancy—in the weeks before you even know you’re pregnant.

Prenatal vitamins come in all shapes, flavors, and types—you can find them at any major retailer or drug store. They contain at least 400 micrograms of folic acid, which is a B vitamin. Having enough folic acid in our body at least one month prior to conceiving a pregnancy can help prevent major birth defects in baby’s brain and spine.

If there are habits and changes you need to make, do those before you conceive your baby. This is the time to stop habits known to harm developing babies right from conception, including smoking, drinking alcohol, or the use of certain drugs such as medical marijuana, to name a common one. Even if medical marijuana is legal where you live, it’s a controlled substance with known risks to baby and pregnancy and could potentially cause harm to your baby.

Of note, healthcare providers are mandatory reporters and may have to inform local authorities or agencies about lifestyle practices and choices that could be a concern for your unborn growing baby. Reach out to mental health care professionals if you think you need counseling, treatment, and or other support services to be able to limit these practices before pregnancy occurs.

Where You Live Can Affect Your Baby

Let’s be real: Sometimes where you live could be a potential threat to a pregnancy, things like high-crime, toxic substances in the soil or water, or living in an abusive domestic environment can threaten an otherwise healthy pregnancy. These everyday stressors can increase cortisol levels, decrease metabolism, and cause additional harmful and unwanted health conditions, such as excess weight gain (related to decrease in metabolism).

Experts at the CDC advise avoiding harmful toxins like those in synthetic chemicals, metals, fertilizer, bug spray, and cat or rodent feces around the home and in the workplace. These substances can affect the reproductive systems of both women and men; for women, they can make it more difficult to get pregnant. Exposure to even small amounts during pregnancy, infancy, childhood, or puberty can lead to diseases.

Your blood pressure may rise to unhealthy levels because of environmental or other personal stressors. Don’t live near a grocery or retailer with fresh produce and healthy choices? Living in what experts call a “food desert” means you’ll have limited healthy food choices that can rob your pregnancy of optimal nutrition for you and your developing baby. If you find this is your situation, speak with your health care providers about resources available in your community that can support a healthy environment, food choices, and lifestyle during your pregnancy.

When Your Relationship Affects Your Health

Healthcare experts know that violence can lead to injury and death among women at any stage of life, including during pregnancy. The number of violent deaths experienced by women tells only part of the story. Many more survive violence and are left with lifelong physical and emotional scars. If someone is violent toward you or you are violent toward your loved ones―get help.

Violence destroys relationships and families. Sadly, research demonstrates that violence toward women often begins when a woman becomes pregnant. Talk to your pregnancy care provider and make an actionable plan to get to a safe home, as needed, to protect yourself and your developing baby.

Reach and Maintain a Healthy Weight

People who are overweight or obese are at increased risk for serious health conditions during pregnancy such as cardiomyopathy, type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes, increased risk of preterm labor and or high blood pressure.

The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is healthy eating and regular physical activity. Determining what that looks like for you specifically can be challenging. It requires planning and thought to determine how to get that activity in daily. But it you can do it and it can be fun and free of cost.

Perhaps it’s simply counting your steps at work (using your phone or an app), parking farther away from your job for a longer walk to the door, working at home where you can squeeze in a quick walk during lunch. Plan for short breaks throughout your day—15 to 30 minutes at a time. Take a walk, go up and down the stairs, or do a quick exercise video on your phone or TV.

If maintaining a healthy weight is a struggle for you, don’t be afraid to speak to someone about planning to lose weight. Perhaps your doctor, a nutritionist, or your place of employment may have a fitness, lifestyle modification, or weight loss program. Such an option may even be free or low-cost to you as an employee. This is a first and essential first step in creating a healthier you before you get pregnant. Contact your human resource department or benefits coordinator to find about health modification options you may not have even realized were available to you!

Learn Your Family and Pregnancy History

Collecting and keeping your family’s health history is important for your future child’s health. You might not realize that your sister’s heart defect or your cousin’s sickle cell disease could affect your child but sharinge this family history with your pregnancy care provider is important.

Get Mentally Healthy

Mental health is how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. Everyone feels worried, anxious or stressed sometimes. However, if these feelings do not go away and interfere with your daily life, get help. Talk with someone about your feelings and treatment options. Experts at Postpartum Support International (postpartum.net) have resources for you and your family from preconception through baby’s birth. Once you are pregnant, be sure to keep up all your new healthy habits and see your pregnancy care provider for check-ups and valuable information about each stage and potential issues throughout your pregnancy. Get real time education from the nurses who will be with your during pregnancy, labor and birth from Healthy Mom&Baby magazine, which is created by obstetric nurses for the pregnant women for whom they provide care.

LaShea Haynes, MEd, MSN, APRN, AGCNS-BC, RNC, C-EFM

LaShea Haynes, MEd, MSN, APRN, AGCNS-BC, RNC, C-EFM, is an obstetric nurse with more than 25 years in practice. She is editor of Healthy Mom&Baby magazine and president of the nursing education and consulting company, Perinatal Potpourri, LLC, in the greater Atlanta metro region.

The information contained on this article should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your health care professional.