8 Steps to Take Before Trying to Conceive

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by: Lindsay Hutton
Most women know that a healthy body and lifestyle are vital during pregnancy, but did you know that preconception health can be just as important? Before you actively start trying to conceive, follow these steps to help prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy.
Woman talking to doctor
Schedule a Checkup
Even if you feel healthy, schedule a preconception visit with your doctor, ob-gyn, or midwife to discuss your current health. Your doctor will probably want to review your family history, any medical conditions you have, medications you are on, and any vaccinations you might need. He or she will likely also discuss your weight, current diet and exercise, and any unhealthy habits you have, like smoking or drinking. This appointment is also a great time to ask questions, so don't be shy!

While you're at it, schedule a dentist appointment, too. Hormonal shifts make pregnant women more susceptible to tooth decay, bleeding gums, and periodontal disease, so it's important to keep your oral health on track.

Folic acid spilling out of a green bottle on white background
Start Taking Folic Acid
Start taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day at least one month before you start trying to get pregnant. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), if a woman has enough folic acid in her body one month before and during her pregnancy, it can help reduce the risk of major birth defects of the baby's brain and spine by 50 to 70 percent.
Red wine pouring into a glass
Stop Smoking and Drinking Alcohol
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking street drugs can make it harder for you to get pregnant and also increase your risk of miscarrying. It's best to stop smoking and drinking before you try to conceive. Talk to your doctor or contact your local treatment center if you think you need help quitting.

Also avoid environmental contaminants and toxic substances, such as synthetic chemicals, metals, fertilizer, bug spray, and cat or rodent feces. According to the CDC, exposure to even small amounts of these substances during pregnancy can be harmful, and can hurt the reproductive systems of men and women and make it more difficult to get pregnant.

Smiling woman drinking coffee in kitchen
Cut Back on Caffeine
If you've got a serious caffeine addiction, it's time to cut back. According to the Food and Drug Administration, most experts agree that small amounts of caffeine are safe to consume while trying to conceive and during pregnancy, but to limit yourself to no more than 200 milligrams (about one 12-ounce cup) a day.
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Exercise and Eat Right
Being over- or underweight can make it harder for some women to get pregnant. Additionally, if you are overweight or obese, you're at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce these risks. Talk to your doctor about exercising safely, and how to maintain a healthy diet before, during, and after your pregnancy.

The CDC also recommends reducing your fish and seafood consumption, since these foods contain mercury and can cause birth defects when eaten in large amounts. Follow their recommendations by eating no more than 12 ounces of fish per week, avoiding ocean fish like shark and tilefish, and limiting your tuna intake to one can or steak per week.

Mother and grown daughter standing in kitchen
Research Your Family History
Some diseases can be genetic, so share any known family history with your doctor. He or she might recommend genetic carrier screening to see if you or your partner is a carrier for any inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease. If you or your partner is found to be a carrier, a genetic counselor can help you discuss your reproductive options.
Two packs of birth control pills on white background
Toss Your Birth Control
If you are on a hormonal contraceptive, like the pill, ring, or patch, it's time to toss it! There is no need to wait until the end of a cycle, either — you can stop whenever you are ready and will likely get your period within a few days.

Although there is no need to wait a set amount of time before trying to get pregnant, it's important to know that while fertility returns for most women within a few days, it might take a month (or longer) for you to start ovulating again, and if you are on Depo-Provera, it can take up to a year from your last shot. Some healthcare professionals recommend waiting until your periods become regular before trying to conceive, but this is only to make it easier to determine your due date and not for any health reasons.

Smiling woman relaxing on couch
Reduce Stress
According to the NIH, low stress levels might make it easier to get pregnant. Make sure you get plenty of rest and relaxation. Ask your doctor or midwife for relaxation techniques and ways to reduce stress in your everyday life. These tips will also come in handy during (and after!) your pregnancy.