Trying to get pregnant? Make sure you know the bottom line on baby-making—what you don't understand can affect your bub-to-be's health.
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Pregnancy changes everything. In this first installment of our three-part series, we provide a head-to-toe look at the pregnant body, starting with how you need to nurture it even before you conceive.
So sit back, put your feet up and learn how to take good care of your baby’s first home: your own body.
How to get pregnant
Have sex every other day beginning four days before you’re due to ovulate, advises Abraham Shashoua, M.D., chairman of the division of obstetrics and gynecology at Women’s Hospital at Weiss Memorial in Chicago.
Ovulation occurs 14 days before your period starts, so if your menstrual cycle is 28 days long, you ovulate on day 14 (the first day of your period is day 1). You should have intercourse on days 10, 12 and 14. Resist the temptation to have sex every day: Sperm count may decline with daily intercourse. Also, sperm survive in cervical mucus for up to two days. If your cycle is highly irregular, a gynecologist can perform tests to determine whether you’re ovulating. Ovulation-predictor kits (available at drugstores) can help you time intercourse more exactly.
Building a Healthy Baby
Increasing the odds that you give birth to a healthy baby starts several months before you conceive. Siobhan M. Dolan, M.D., assistant medical director of the March of Dimes, recommends the following:
Take folic acid} Women who begin taking 400 micrograms of folic acid supplements daily starting one month before they conceive reduce their risk of having a baby with neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida, by 50 percent to 70 percent.
Treat infections before conceiving} Common health conditions like gum infections and bacterial vaginosis can increase the risk of prematurity and other problems. All infections should be treated and other health issues, such as diabetes, anemia and high blood pressure, should be brought under control before you get pregnant.
Start out at a healthy weight} Weighing either too much or too little can impair fertility and increase your risk of developing pregnancy complications. “The goal is to be neither too heavy nor too light,” Dolan says. Aim for a body-mass index (BMI) of between 20 and 25 before you become pregnant. (A 5-foot-4-inch woman who weighs 145 pounds has a BMI of 25.)
Schedule a preconception visit} Your OB-GYN or midwife will make sure you’re healthy enough to get pregnant and review any prescription drugs you take. If there’s a chance you are at risk for having a baby with sickle-cell anemia, cystic fibrosis or other genetically linked disease, get a referral to a genetic counselor to learn more about your risk and whether there are ways to reduce it.