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Health Before Pregnancy
& Planning Your Pregnancy

 

Learn about the importance of health before pregnancy and how to best plan your pregnancy. Includes information for both men and women.

The choices you and your partner make before pregnancy can impact your chances of becoming pregnant. Your health before pregnancy directly affects your health during pregnancy, birth and the future health of your baby.

Did You Know?

  • The most critical time in a baby's development is between 17-56 days after conception, often before a woman knows she is even pregnant!
  • 50% of pregnancies are unplanned
  • Sperm is continuously produced, but sperm quality can be directly impacted by overall health, smoking, alcohol and drugs, and stress.

Your Reproductive Life Plan

Create your own Reproductive Life Plan (external PDF) to decide on goals for your future including whether or not to have children one day. It will help you understand how to protect your ability to have children, recognize when you are ready to start trying to get pregnant (or trying to get pregnant again) and how to have the healthiest baby possible.

If you and your partner have decided now is not the best time to start your family, there are a variety of birth control methods to help you prevent pregnancy.

Using the PrePregnancy Planner (external link) can help you to start thinking about your plan for pregnancy. Your partner should complete the assessment as well.

Consider scheduling a visit with your health care provider to discuss your health before planning a pregnancy.

Age

There is not a perfect age for having a family. There are many matters to consider including emotional and financial readiness. Physically, it is easiest for most to become pregnant between 20 and 35 years of age. The ability to conceive naturally or with medical advances declines with age. A woman's fertility begins to decline around 32 years of age. As men age, there is a decrease in the quality of their sperm. With women and/or men that are 35 or older there are more chance of:

  • multiple births (twins, triplets)
  • chromosomal differences (Like Down Syndrome)
  • miscarriages or still births
  • health issues for the baby

As women age, it is more common to have gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. The risk of pregnancy complications (like a premature baby) and adverse outcomes increase with age even with the use of reproductive assistance, such as in vitro fertilization.

Pregnancy during the teenage years is also associated with premature birth and babies with poor growth during the pregnancy.

Folic Acid

Folic acid helps to prevent some birth defects that occur very early in the pregnancy, often before many know they are pregnant. All women of childbearing years who could become pregnant are recommended to take a multivitamin with folic acid.

Healthy Lifestyle

Healthy eating, being physically active, limiting your sedentary behaviour as well as getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep every day is essential for health and well being. Many of these lifestyle behaviours take time to become a regular part of your daily routine (that are important to continue during a pregnancy) and can affect your ability to become pregnant.

Pregnancy Spacing

The time between pregnancies is an important time for you to take care of yourself. Waiting at least 18-24 months and no more than 5 years between each completed pregnancy allows a woman’s body time to recover for a healthier pregnancy, a better chance for the next baby to be a healthy weight and size at birth.

Use birth control until you are sure you are ready to get pregnant again.

If you had a pregnancy loss, speak to your health care provider for more information on when to plan your next pregnancy.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)

Using condoms, having few sexual partners, knowing your partner's sexual health history and discussing it with your health care provider, can help reduce your risk of getting an STI. STIs can have a negative effect on fertility and the health of a future pregnancy and baby. Treating infections early can prevent serious harm to your reproductive health.

Certain STIs, such as chlamydia, often have no signs or symptoms, yet have to be treated so they do not lead to infertility.

Get more information on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI).

Women

STIs can affect reproductive organs and lead to infertility and pregnancy complications. STIs can be passed to the baby at birth and can cause further health issues for the child.

Men

STIs can damage testicular tubes which carry the sperm from the testicles. This can prevent sperm from successfully reaching the egg and your partner will not be able to become pregnant.

Individuals who take care of themselves before and after they become pregnant help their babies stay healthy. Although it is never to late to make these healthy choices, many of the recommendations are best started at least three months prior to pregnancy. A baby's health begins even before they are conceived.

If you are planning on becoming pregnant, consider scheduling a visit with your health care provider to discuss your health or any recommendations for the healthiest pregnancy possible.

Immunizations

Ensure your immunizations are up to date before you get pregnant. Certain diseases affect your fertility and can put a baby at serious risk of birth defects or complications during pregnancy. Make sure:

  • You get immunized against measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox
  • Get your annual flu shot
  • Make sure you are up to date on diphtheria, tetanus, polio and whooping cough immunizations

Smoking, Alcohol & Drugs

Substance use has an affect on overall health, including fertility, for all individuals. Many substances will affect the health of the baby if continued during pregnancy. Before pregnancy is the ideal time to try stop using substances. Consult your health care provider for supports and information to help.

Substance Recommendations Women Men
Smoking and Second Hand Smoke Quitting smoking and having a smoke-free environment can eliminate most negative effects on a pregnancy and future baby
  • Less chance of becoming pregnant
  • Higher chance of miscarriages
  • Higher risk of birth defects
  • Sperm have a harder time swimming and creating a pregnancy
Alcohol

Following the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (external PDF) for men and women reduces long term health risks and harms. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest choice is to drink no alcohol at all.

  • Can cause brain damage and birth defects (FASD: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder)
  • Higher risk of birth defects
  • Can damage quality of sperm
  • Heavy alcohol use may affect sperm formation and function
  • May cause impotence
Cannabis

There are risks from cannabis use (external PDF) to both immediate and long-term health. Canada's Lower-risk cannabis use guidelines recommend refraining from its use during pregnancy to avoid effects to a baby.

  • Heavy cannabis use is linked to changes in menstrual cycle
  • Can affect the growth and development of the baby, and lead to long-term learning and behaviour problems
  • Lowers sperm counts in men
  • Poorer sperm quality

Prescription drugs

  • Prescription Drugs and other Medications - some medications are not safe for a developing baby during pregnancy. Discuss with your health care providers the medications or substances you are using to understand which can affect your fertility or a developing baby to develop a plan for your health and a pregnancy.
  • Street Drugs - there are risks to your health and an unborn baby. There are special supports and programs to help you quit.

Body Weight

Being a healthy weight can improve your overall health, your chances of becoming pregnant and having a healthier baby.

Women

If you are well above or below a healthy weight you may have troubles becoming pregnant. Babies may be born too small or early for women who are underweight prior to pregnancy. Being well above a healthy weight increases your risk of having a baby born with a birth defect, born too early as well as pregnancy and birth complications.

Men

Men who are above a healthy weight can experience changes in hormone levels, such as lower testosterone. This can cause problems getting or keeping an erection as well as lower sperm counts.

Physical Activity

Physical activity contributes to overall health and well being. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (external PDF) suggest 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity for adults aged 64 and under. If you are not already fit, start with 30 minutes each day. A 10 minute walk, 3 times per day is all it takes to make it easier to stay active which can continue while you are pregnant.

Women

Frequent strenuous exercise can affect menstrual function.

Women who are physically fit before pregnancy have an easier time adjusting to the body changes they experience during pregnancy.

Men

Fertility can be affected by physical activity. Those who are moderately physically active have better sperm quality.

Nutrition

Healthy eating is a key component to overall health. Before becoming pregnant is an ideal time to begin these habits.

Women

Nutritional needs change in pregnancy. Having healthy eating patterns before becoming pregnant helps lower health risks for you and your baby.

There is benefit to begin including some of the key nutrients important in the early weeks of pregnancy before becoming pregnant

  • Take a multivitatmin containing folic acid. It is essential to spine, brain and skull development of your baby in the first 4 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Include foods with the important nutrients iron, calcium and vitamin D
  • Follow the Canada's Food Guide (external link) by choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables, grain products, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives
  • Drink water throughout the day

If you restrict foods from one or more food groups discuss this with your health care provider.

Men

Maintaining a healthy diet is just as important for potential dads as it is for potential mothers. It will not only reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but contribute to a healthy body weight. Eating well with Canada's Food Guide (external link) can help you have a healthy, well balanced diet and protect your fertility.

Making healthy eating choices in your everyday life now can make it easier for you to continue them into parenthood.

Oral Health

Oral health plays an important role in overall health and well-being.

Women should take care to see a dentist and resolve any dental problems before becoming pregnant, although almost all dental care is safe during pregnancy.

Poor oral health can lead to health concerns during pregnancy and the health of your baby.

Environmental Exposure

Chemicals (external link) at home or work can create problems for couples trying to get pregnant. In some cases, exposure to certain chemicals can affect fertility, prenatal health and the health of your baby. To learn more, visit Motherisk (external link) and make sure to read the guidelines at your workplace on the hazardous materials with which you may come into contact. Some of the harmful chemicals to watch out for are:

  • lead
  • mercury
  • garden pesticides

Medical History

  • Explore your family's medical history
  • If you know of mental or physical concerns, seek genetic counselling before pregnancy
  • Know your blood type

Make sure any chronic conditions are under control before trying to conceive. This includes exploring any current medications for safe use during pregnancy.

Emotional Health

Learning how to cope with your emotions can help you through your pregnancy and decrease your chances of having a baby born too early or too small among other possible infant health concerns.

  • Up to 25% of women experience depression (external link) during some point in their life
  • Speak to your health care provider if you have a history of mental health concerns or to discuss current medications that are safe to use during pregnancy.

Emotions can run high during pregnancy. It is important that you can lean on your partner for support during pregnancy. Of women who have reported being in an abusive relationship, about 30% of these women said it occurred during pregnancy. If you have concerns, reach out to your local woman's shelter (external link) or SAVIS (external link) (Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Services of Halton) for support anytime.

If you do not want to become pregnant, you need to prevent it. The Reproductive Health Plan is not only beneficial to those planning to have a baby, but for all individuals: those who may want a baby in the future, or not have children at all.

50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Part of an effective Reproductive Life Plan involves planning appropriate birth control methods. Visit sexandu.ca (external link) or Halton's Sexual Health Clinic for free, confidential resources relating to your sexual health.

It is important for all women who could possibly become pregnant to take a multivitamin with folic acid.

Whether or not you plan on growing your family, your health and wellness should always be an important part of your everyday life.

If you have questions about getting pregnant or health before pregnancy, call HaltonParents at 311.

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