So now you are thinking of having a baby. Parentree is a great place to make your journey of parenthood easier and more fun. Here you can find lots of useful information, share information and connect with other parents and parent-to-bes.
You must be anxious to get pregnant. But wait, there is some spadework you can do before you try for conception. This will ensure a strong and healthy base for you to have and bring up a baby.
The ideal age to get pregnant biologically is 20 - 35 years. By 20 you are usually mature enough to handle a baby and the challenges. Though nowadays more and more women are having kids later because they are studying or working.
Fertility of men and women changes with age. Research shows that a woman's peak fertility occurs between the ages of 19 - 26. It also shows that as a woman ages beyond 35 (and especially after age 40), the likelihood of getting pregnant drops very quickly. The age of men seems to be an influencing factor only beyond 35 years1.
Research also shows that incidence of Down Syndrome and other birth defects in babies increases after 35 years of age. The likelihood that a woman under 30 who becomes pregnant will have a baby with Down syndrome is less than 1 in 1,000, but the chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome increases to 1 in 400 for women who become pregnant at age 35. The likelihood of Down Syndrome continues to increase as a woman ages, so that by age 42, the chance is 1 in 60 that a pregnant woman will have a baby with Down Syndrome, and by age 49, the chance is 1 in 12. Many specialists recommend that women who become pregnant at age 35 or older undergo prenatal testing for Down Syndrome2.
But age is not the only factor responsible for birth defects. There could be others including exposure to harmful chemicals, genetic history, smoking, and dietary shortcomings.
This also does not mean that you should have a baby early or not have a baby after 35, but you need to be aware of the risks and get the appropriate tests done at the right times. These tests include AFP (Alpha-Feto Protein), and Amniocentesis.
Pregnancy, breastfeeding and taking care of a baby is challenging both physically and emotionally. If you have had a baby recently, then typically you should wait until the baby is at least nine months old, before trying for the next baby. This will ensure that your body's nutrient levels have got back on track, and you will have the time and strength for the new baby.
This child-spacing decision will depend on your age, your health and other factors. If you are in your twenties, you could wait for a few years and devote time to the first baby. Many couples find that an age difference of 2-4 years is optimal as they can devote time to the first baby, the mother can be ready physically and mentally for the new baby and the kids will have less age difference and can be good playmates for each other. There is no fixed right or wrong answer but thinking through the decision will help everyone stay healthy and sane.
If you are on a birth control pill, it may take up to 3 months for your hormone levels to get back to regular ones. Once you stop taking the pill, you can become pregnant immediately but in a number of cases there may be lingering effects from the pill. These effects could hinder immediate conception. This lag period can last for up to three months after the last use of the pill.
Studies show that folic acid deficiency during the first 3 months of pregnancy can cause serious birth defects of the spine and the brain, called Neural Tube Defects (NTD) like Spina Bifida etc.3 It has been found that taking folic acid supplements daily, along with a diet containing foods rich in folic acid can help prevent these birth defects.4
The risk of these birth defects are in the very beginning of pregnancy and by the time women realize their pregnancy (typically after 3-5 weeks after conception), it might be too late. So, to be safe, it is recommended that women wishing to conceive start taking folic acid supplements before conception.
So, women preparing for conception should start taking folic acid supplement containing atleast 400 micrograms daily (or as recommended by your doctor), at least 2 months before they intend to conceive. In cases of previous births with birth defects or diabetes or if you take epileptic drugs, a higher dose maybe recommended by your doctor. In these cases, you should seek advise from your doctor before trying to conceive.
This is the time to start paying attention to your diet and nutrition if you have not already. Your body and mind will be going through a lot as you get pregnant and have a baby. Your overall nutritional status can affect your hormones and your ability to get pregnant.
Have a balanced diet of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy or calcium rich foods, protein and healthy fat. Try to avoid trans fat, the "bad" fat found in many fried and fast foods. Cut down on excessive coffee.
Exercise will really help in a healthy pregnancy and delivery of baby. It is advised that once you become pregnant, you should not start any new exercise regimen and stick to your pre-pregnancy exercise routine. So it is best to start now--before you conceive. Make exercise a part of your life. Its healthy for you and your baby.
You should reach and maintain healthy weight levels. Excess weight can make it more difficult for you to conceive.
Some good forms of exercise are walking, yoga, running, aerobics and tennis. Strengthening your back and muscles will really help you during pregnancy and childbirth. But be careful, do not start any radically heavy exercise because for some people heavy exercise can result in miscarriage etc. Talk to your doctor about this. Walking, swimming and yoga can be the safest choices.
Most people know that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and other major health problems. But women who smoke during pregnancy put themselves and their unborn babies at risk for other health problems. The dangers of smoking during pregnancy include premature birth, certain birth defects, and infant death5. Even being around cigarette smoke puts a woman and her baby at risk for problems.
Smoking makes it harder for a woman to conceive and women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely than others to have a miscarriage. So it is best to stop smoking early, even before you conceive.
It is important to quit smoking for good. Some women might think it is safe to start smoking again after their baby is born. But these babies are not out of harm's way. Babies who are around cigarette smoke have weaker lungs than other babies. They are more likely to have other health problems such as infections and more frequent asthma attacks. Being around cigarette smoke is also one of the causes of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Though quitting for good can be hard, the benefits are worth it—a healthy baby and many more years of good health to enjoy with him or her.
Illegal drugs are even more harmful for the mother and the baby. Stop right away and seek professional help.Also, avoid exposure to toxic substances and strong chemicals both at work and at home.
This is the time to start controlling your alcohol use. A mother’s alcohol use during pregnancy can cause birth defects and developmental disabilities. Once you are thinking of having a baby, it is safest to avoid alcohol because you might get pregnant any time, even before you are aware. There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to drink while pregnant. Also, when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, her baby does too.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause many birth defects and developmental disabilities. These are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FASDs can cause problems in how a person looks, grows, thinks, and acts. FASDs can also cause birth defects of the heart, brain, and other major organs.
So try those mocktails and enjoy other fun non-alcoholic drinks. There are plenty in the market nowadays.
You need to be as relaxed as possible to conceive and carry a baby. If there is a lot of stress at work or in your life, focus on reducing it lest it hinder your goal of getting pregnant. You do not have to stop working. Many women have worked hard, well through their pregnancies. In fact a busy mind is always a healthy mind. But if the stress is overwhelming, you might want to make appropriate changes in your work--reduce the hours, take a different job etc. Studies show that a lot of stress can make it harder for a woman to conceive and can increase the risk of miscarriages.
Sometimes a romantic trip for the two of you maybe a great way to reduce stress and get you in the mood.
Make sure your relationship with your spouse and your finances are strong and healthy before you undertake the journey of having a baby. Your spouse will play an important part as you get pregnant and bring up a baby.
A Gynaecologist (Also called ObGyn or Obstetrician and Gynaecologist or simply Gyne) will be your important guide for conception, pregnancy, delivery and postpartum care). An obstetrician-gynaecologist (OB) is a medical doctor who specializes in the care of pregnant women and in delivering babies. Obstetricians also have special training in surgery so they are capable of doing episiotomies and caesarean sections. Here are some criteria for selecting one:
- Find someone with solid experience -- Check their years of experience and ensure they graduated from a decent medical college.
- Check their general competence and reputation--this is where you need to ask your family and friends. Look at Parentree reviews or talk to Parentree parents for a good gynaecologist in your area.
- Find out about the doctor's rate of caesaerian vs. vaginal births. A high rate of caesaerian births is not a good sign.
- It really helps if the doctor is close by as you need frequent medical checkups during pregnancy. These can be as frequent as every week, in your last trimester.
- You should feel comfortable with the doctor and they should be accessible. This is especially important if you are going to be a first-time parent.
- The doctor should be willing to give you a number to call in case of emergency, at all times. They should have a protocol for this.
- Find out their substitution policy - if they cannot make it for the delivery, then who is going to be the substitute doctor.
- Ask about the hospitals the doctor is affiliated with. The doctor should be affiliated to the hospital you might be interested in delivering.
- Does the doctor's clinic have easy access to a lab to get the many different tests you might have to take while pregnant? Many clinics have labs within the clinic and that can make it very convenient for you to take pregnancy tests.
- If you have a specific hospital or birthing center that you are very keen to deliver, you should ensure that your doctor is affiliated to the place and can be present for your delivery.
A handy check-list to keep in mind5:
- A pelvic exam (pap smear etc.) can rule out chances of UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) or STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) which might complicate conception and pregnancy. Infections and STD are treatable.
- A blood test can point out conditions like Anaemia (iron deficiency) which is very common in India, even in upper middle-class families. If this is the case, then your doctor can give you supplemental iron. It will also show whether you are immune to diseases like German Measles (Rubella). Most are immune but if you are not, then it is best to get immunization before you get pregnant.
- A urine test can point out diseases like diabetes and kiidney ailments and these can be addressed by the doctor.
- Also work with your doctor if you have medical conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, high blood pressure etc. It does not mean that you should not have a baby but the doctor might need to modify your pregnancy medicines and give you additional treatment. This also holds true for other conditions like depression and schizophrenia which can be treated and kept in control with proper medical care.
- Talk to your doctor about a family history of genetic diseases and multiple births or any STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) you might have or have had which might complicate pregnancy.
- Talk to your doctor about taking folic acid or other nutritional supplements.
- Talk to your doctor about your current birth control method.
- Talk to your doctor about how much exercise is optimal for you.
As couples prepare for pregnancy, it is easy to focus only on the woman’s health. However, there are several items that are critical for men also. The father's health also affects his fertility and the sperm quality. A male who exercises, eats healthy, is not overweight and is not a heavy smoker and drinker is less likely to have fertility problems and can contribute to a healthy baby. Here are some tips for fathers-to-be:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle including the right diet and regular exercise
- Get plenty of rest. It is good for everything that ails you, even low sperm counts and sperm quality.
- If you are too stressed, it can affect your fertility and general health.
Keep your testicles cool. Heat from hot tubs, saunas, hot, long showers ( more than 30 minutes), and very tight underwear could cause your testicles to become too hot which decreases sperm quantity.
- Quit smoking as this can affect your wife and unborn child also
- Avoid exposure to toxic substances and strong chemicals at work and at home
Be romantic. Help create a relaxed, stress-free environemnt for yourself and your wife. Life will change (in a good way) after the first baby comes. But it will never be just like it is now. Enjoy every moment together.
1. Dunson, David B., Baird, Donna D., Colombo, Bernardo "Increased Infertility With Age in Men and Women", Obstet Gynecol 2004 103: 51-56
2. Hook, EG, Lindsjo A. "Down syndrome in live births by single year maternal age interval in a Swedish study: comparison with results from a New York State study." Am J Hum Genet. 1978 Jan;30(1):19-27
3. Hibbard ED, Smithells RW. "Folic acid metabolism and human embryopathy" Lancet 1965; 1: 1254 via Hema Gupta, Piyush Gupta "Neural Tube Defects and Folic Acid", Indian Pediatrics 2004; 41:577-586
4. Czeizel, AE, Dudas, I "Prevention of the first occurrence of neural-tube defects by periconceptional vitamin supplementation", N Engl J Med 1992 327: 1832-1835
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Recommendations to Improve Preconception Health and Health Care --- United States" April 2006