Preconception care – the Dos and the Don’ts

Pregnancy is a shared responsibility

Prenatal care is not only the responsibility of the pregnant mother but also of the entire family. This support system plays a crucial role in assuring the healthy lives of both the mother and baby. It is, hence, important, that the care and supervision are also provided during the preconception period as well.

Why is preconception care important?

Preconception care ultimately aims to improve the maternal and child health,  both the short and long term.

An understanding of various factors such as a person’s nature, lifestyle or even genetics can help take necessary steps to ensure the well-being of the yet-to-be-born baby and the mother.

Always consult your doctor before planning your pregnancy. The expert can give you better insights in this regard by means of medical tests and investigations.

Why do these factors put you at risk?

  • Chronic diseases: Certain diseases have long-term effects on our physical and mental health and can interfere with the normal course of pregnancy. Eg: Diabetes, hypertension, asthma, anemia and a few others.
  • Infectious diseases: Microbial agents causing infections like Hepatitis B, Influenza, and Tetanus, etc. can cross the placenta and harm the baby in the uterus.
  • Reproductive concerns: Couples who have dealt with unplanned pregnancies issues related to the use of contraceptives, infertility; adverse past pregnancy outcomes are likely to face serious problems during the time of pregnancy. Your attitude towards becoming pregnant determines your interest, the care towards the pregnant mother and the unborn baby.
  • Genetic/inherited conditions: Genetic Sickle cell anemia, down syndrome etc. are associated with genetic predisposition. If a woman or her partner has a family history of these conditions the probability of having a baby with such anomalies is high as compared to the general population.
  • Medications and medical treatment: Certain medications and diagnostic radiation exposures during pregnancy can be harmful to the baby.
  • Habits and routines: Smoking; alcohol consumption; illicit drug use; exposures to chemicals and other environmental toxins as well as the consumption of over-the-counter medications; hyperthermia/fever during pregnancy may harm the health of the growing fetus. These substances can reach the fetus from the maternal blood through the placenta.
  • Sociodemographic characteristics: Pregnancy among young girls, i.e less than 18 years of age, and those who are older than 35-years-old are likely to have complications. Weight an exposure to domestic violence also have an impact.

Preconception care guidelines

  • Plan your pregnancy. Your preparation helps you identify your needs and priorities.
  • Regulate your lifestyle and be as healthy as you can be. Both partners need to maintain themselves physically and mentally before they consider having a child. Stop smoking and drinking alcohol. Consume food that is rich in nutrients and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Exercises regularly practice different relaxation techniques like meditation or Yoga. Most of all, avoid working at odd hours as you need to sleep well at night.
  • If you are already diagnosed to have some medical illness, be sure that it is under control. You may have to adhere to the treatment as per your doctor’s advice to ensure the best results. Discuss your pregnancy plans with your doctor.
  • Consume 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day as this vitamin lowers the risk of certain birth defects.
  • Maintain an ideal Body Mass Index (BMI) when you plan your pregnancy. BMI less than 18.5 is considered underweight and greater than 24.9 is considered excess.
  • Any over-the-counter medication that you are using can be dangerous. Seek your doctor’s advice.
  •  If your area is prone to certain infectious diseases, you may be advised to take vaccines against them. Ensure that you take the vaccinations as per the recommended regimen. You may have to postpone the pregnancy for a specific period after some vaccinations (eg: A three-month interval between a rubella vaccination and your pregnancy)
  • Avoid exposure to infected people and materials, toxic materials like dyes, X-rays etc.
  • If you are on prescribed medications for some diseases, do not stop or regulate the dose of medications without your doctor’s advice.
  • Maintain your personal hygiene as it plays a vital role in keeping you healthy.

Help the woman: Tips for the male partner 

The support and care given by prospective father instill confidence in the female partner when the couple prepares for a pregnancy. The following are some tips:

  • Pregnancy and child-rearing are shared responsibilities. Hence, both partners should take a decision about having a kid together.
  • Have a positive attitude towards pregnancy. It helps to avoid risky behavior such as smoking, drinking alcohol and engaging in risky sexual activities.
  • Accompany the woman during preconception check-ups. That way, the personal, family and health history of both partners can be screened and reviewed by the doctor.
  • Men who work with chemicals, other toxins or even in conditions that cause radiation hazards need to be careful and should to avoid exposing pregnant women to them.
  • The temperature or the scrotal should be two degrees Fahrenheit lower than the rest of the body for healthy sperm production. Avoid, taking regular warm baths, wearing tight jeans, using laptops for a longer period, driving vehicles for long hours, etc. as these could affect the production of healthy sperm.
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This article has been written by Dr. Namitha Subrahmanyam. She has been working as a nurse for over 13 years and holds an M.Sc in OBG Nursing. Recently, Namitha Subrahmanyam has been awarded a PhD. She is also working as an Associate Professor at the Department of Obstetrical and Gynaecological Nursing of the MOSC College of Nursing, Kochi, Kerala, India.

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