All women can benefit from preconception health, whether or not they plan to have a baby one day. This is because part of preconception health is about people getting and staying healthy overall, throughout their lives.
One of the best things a woman can do for herself is to take good care of her health. It’s natural to think about eating well and exercising as important parts of being healthy, but there are other things to consider, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges all women to make healthy living a priority.
In addition, no one expects an unplanned pregnancy. But it happens often. In fact, about half of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned.
Following are some healthy habits for women:
1. Make a Plan and Take Action
Whether or not you’ve written them down, you’ve probably thought about your goals for having or not having children and how to achieve those goals. It’s really important to have a plan and take action, as needed.
2. See Your Doctor
At least once each year, see your doctor for a health check-up. Talk with your doctor about preconception health care. If your doctor has not discussed this type of care with you―ask about it! Bring a list of talking points so you don’t forget anything.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about:
If you currently have any medical conditions, be sure they are in control and being treated. Some of these conditions include: sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), diabetes, thyroid disease, phenylketonuria (PKU), seizure disorders, high blood pressure, arthritis, eating disorders, and chronic diseases.
Lifestyle and Behaviors
Talk with your doctor or other health professional if you smoke, use “street” drugs, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol (binge drinking); live in a stressful or abusive environment; or work with or live around toxic substances. Your doctor can help you with counseling, treatment, and other support services.
Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep you healthy.
3. Take 400 Micrograms of Folic Acid Every Day
Folic acid is a B vitamin. Every woman needs folic acid every day for the healthy new cells the body makes daily. Think about your skin, hair, and nails. These―and other parts of the body–make new cells each day. Folic acid also is important to help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine if you do become pregnant.
Learn about folic acid »
4. Stop Smoking, Using “Street” Drugs, and Drinking Excessive Amounts
Smoking, using “street” drugs, and drinking too much alcohol (binge drinking) are harmful to your health and could lead to serious birth defects for your baby if you have an unintended pregnancy. If you cannot stop drinking, smoking, or using drugs―get help! Contact your health care provider or local treatment center.
Alcohol and Drug Resources:
Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a treatment facility locator. This locator helps people find drug and alcohol treatment programs in their area.
Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)
Alcoholics Anonymous® is a fellowship of men and women who share their experiences, strengths, and hopes with each other so that they can solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. Locate an A.A. program near you.
5. Avoid Toxic Substances
Exposure to toxic substances and other harmful materials at work or at home, such as synthetic chemicals, metals, fertilizer, bug spray, and cat or rodent feces, can hurt the reproductive systems of men and women. Learn how to protect yourself from toxic substances at work and at home.
6. Reach and Maintain a Healthy Weight
People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk for many serious conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon).1 People who are underweight also are at risk for serious health problems.2
The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn't about short-term dietary changes. It's about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity. Staying in control of your weight contributes to good health now and as you age.
If you are underweight, overweight, or obese, talk with your doctor or other health care professional about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Learn about healthy weight »
7. Get Help for Violence
From infants to the elderly, violence affects people in all stages of life. The number of violent deaths tells only part of the story. Many more people survive violence and are left with lifelong physical and emotional scars.
8. Learn Your Family History
Your family health history can help your doctor provide better care for you. It can help identify whether you have a higher risk for some diseases. It can help your doctor recommend actions for reducing your personal risk for a disease. And, it can help in looking for early warning signs of disease.
Use the U.S. Surgeon General's online tool for collecting family histories, called "My Family Health Portrait."
9. Get Mentally Healthy
Mental health is how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. To be at your best, you need to feel good about your life and value yourself. Everyone feels worried, anxious, sad, or stressed sometimes. However, if these feelings do not go away and they interfere with your daily life, get help. Talk with your doctor or another health care professional about your feelings and treatment options.
10. When You’re Ready―Planning Your Pregnancy
One day, you might decide that you’re ready to have a baby. When that time comes, one of the most important things you can do is plan your pregnancy. For some women, getting their body ready for pregnancy takes a few months. For other women, it might take longer. It’s never too early to get ready for a healthy pregnancy and baby.
In the meantime, learn how to prevent pregnancy. Several safe and highly effective methods of birth control are available to prevent pregnancy.
- NIH, NHLBI Obesity Education Initiative. Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/ob_gdlns.pdf (PDF-1.25Mb)
- Moos, Merry-K, et al. Healthier women, healthier reproductive outcomes: recommendations for the routine care of all women of reproductive age. AJOG Volume 199, Issue 6, Supplement B , Pages S280-S289, December 2008.