Healthy Babies Start with Proper Pregnancy Planning

A healthy pregnancy begins long before conception. By planning ahead you can lower the risk of complications and give your baby the best support from the very beginning.

            Find a physician. First, choose a family care or OB/GYN you’re comfortable with and trust. Check with friends and family for referrals. Does your physician listen to your concerns and answer your questions? Is she in a convenient location? Does she have privileges at the hospital where you’d like to deliver?      

            Schedule a pre-pregnancy checkup. During a preconception appointment, you and your physician will discuss your pregnancy timeline. Share any past pregnancy problems, prescription drugs you’re on, your emotional and physical health and your lifestyle habits.

            “With your physician, consider doing fasting blood work to check glucose for diabetes, a lipid panel for cholesterol and triglycerides, a complete blood count to check for anemia and a TSH to check for thyroid abnormalities,” advises Dr. Peter Caruso, OB/GYN, Saint Luke’s Medical Group-Southridge.

            Power up. At least three months before you hope to get pregnant, begin taking prenatal vitamins (available over the counter) that contain at least 400 mcg folic acid, which can help prevent brain and spinal cord birth defects.

            As blood in the body nearly doubles toward the end of pregnancy, you’ll want to ensure your vitamin also contains an ample supply of iron.

            “Iron is the building block for hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the baby,” says Susan Thrasher, antepartum nurse practitioner, Overland Park Regional Medical Center.

            Get in shape. Achieve a healthy weight through diet and exercise and kick bad habits*.

            “Your body ovulates more efficiently when you’re at a healthy weight, so if you’re trying to become pregnant, it’s a great time to focus on your well-being to ensure your body is best prepared to support a healthy pregnancy,” says Dr. Reagan Wittek, OB/GYN, Shawnee Mission Medical Center.

            During pregnancy, overweight women risk high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, pre-term labor and delivery, gestational diabetes, C-section and birth injury at delivery. 

            “By the same token, being underweight also can pose dangers, resulting in a low birth weight baby and an increased risk for preterm birth,” Thrasher says.

            *Smoking, drinking alcohol and substance abuse can seriously harm a developing baby, especially in the first trimester. Talk to your doctor if you need help.

            Congratulations, you’re pregnant! Continue your pre-pregnancy healthy choices. Prioritize your doctor appointments and follow his or her recommendations.

            Feeling green? For many women, nausea and vomiting often accompany early pregnancy. Dr. Caruso recommends eating six small meals a day and taking a daily 50 mg vitamin B6 to relieve morning sickness. If you’re not gaining weight and experiencing trouble keeping food and fluids down, alert your provider.

            Feed your baby right. Your body only requires a few hundred more calories a day to support your growing baby. Avoid foods with low nutritional value. Instead consume high quality calories found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

            Manage stress and anxiety.  A healthy support network, regular exercise and communicating with your physician can help you manage stressful, anxious emotions common in pregnancy.

            “Don’t ever be afraid to talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your anxiety,” Dr. Wittek says. “No question is stupid, and we’re here to support both your physical and mental health before, during and after pregnancy.”

            Listen to your body. Never an exact science, pregnancy can be unpredictable no matter how well you take care of yourself. First time mom-to-be Kim Kern carefully planned for her pregnancy. But at 24 weeks along, she says something didn’t feel right.

            “I’ve never been pregnant before. And my doctor told me from the beginning that ‘if you feel something is going on, call us,’” Kern says. “There’s a good chance that her encouragement saved my baby.”

            Diagnosed with cervical incompetence, which often results in miscarriage, Kern is hospitalized in Overland Park Regional Medical Center’s Antepartum Unit, a specialized unit that provides round-the-clock care to women experiencing high-risk pregnancies.

            “It’s looking like I’ll be here until I meet the little guy,” she says, adding that she hopes it will be as close to the February due date as possible.

            Although her otherwise active life is on hold at the moment, Kern tries to remain optimistic.

            “You can do all of the planning. We wanted this pregnancy, and now...I’m trying to realize that it’s just out of my control,” Kern says. “But, I’m in the best place I can be.”


How many pounds should an average-weight woman gain during pregnancy?

  • A. 40-50 pounds
  • B. 10-25 pounds
  • C. 25-35 pounds
  • D. 55-60 pounds

Answer: C

What foods should you avoid during pregnancy?

  • A. Peanut butter
  • B. Lunch meat
  • C. Raw fish
  • D. All of the above.

Answer: C, but consuming cooked seafood in moderation is okay. (Foods handled and stored at proper temperatures are safe to eat.)

True or False: It’s safe to get a flu vaccine during pregnancy.

Answer: True. The influenza vaccine is safe through all trimesters of pregnancy and provides important protection to both Mom and Baby, especially infants born in the winter months. Make sure anyone who comes into contact with your baby is vaccinated.


Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two boys. Christa is the author of Confidently Connected: A Mom’s Guide to a Satisfying Social Life.

As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.



Sources: Reagan Wittek, M.D.; Susan Thrasher, APRN

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