Women's Health Matters

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A healthy start

When you are thinking about getting pregnant, you will want to be as healthy as possible.

Many women choose to make an appointment with their doctor before they try to conceive. At this appointment, you can discuss any health conditions and medications with your doctor. Conditions like diabetes, asthma or hypertension can affect your pregnancy. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist if appropriate. If you or your partner are concerned about a family history of any particular illnesses, this is also a good time to discuss these questions with your doctor.

Lifestyle changes can make your pregnancy easier and protect your health and the health of your child. Here are some things to consider:

  • smoking
    Women who smoke tend to have lower weight babies who are more at risk of developmental problems. Smokers may also have a harder time getting pregnant since smoking has been shown to affect the fertility of both women and men. Because pregnancy can be a stressful time and not everyone is able to quit smoking right away, it will be easier to quit before you get pregnant.

  • alcohol
    Drinking when you are pregnant can seriously damage your fetus. A recent study suggested that as little as one to five drinks a week could also reduce your chances of conceiving by up to 50 percent. Before you conceive is probably the best time to stop drinking. The Motherisk program at the Hospital for Sick Children can answer your questions about drinking and pregnancy and refer you to local services if you find it difficult to quit. Their toll-free helpline is available across Canada at 1-877-439-2744.

  • drugs
    If you are taking prescription drugs, you may want to check with your doctor to make sure that none of these drugs will have a negative effect on your pregnancy. Be sure to also ask about over-the-counter products and natural/herbal remedies. Read drug labels carefully. Avoid anything that is not recommended for pregnant women.

    If you are using recreational drugs, even on an occasional basis, you should be aware that many of these drugs can potentially harm a fetus. Because fetal development starts before you even know you are pregnant, it is best to stop using drugs as early as possible. The Motherisk program (see the number above) can give you information about specific drugs and connect you to local services to help you quit using drugs or alcohol.

  • exercise
    Regular exercise can strengthen your muscles, give you more energy and help you feel better. All of this will be useful during the pregnancy and birth, not to mention after the baby is born. Use Canada's Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Living to learn more about staying active.

    If you are thinking of getting pregnant and have questions about exercise during pregnancy, the Sport CARE Clinic at Women’s College Hospital provides a free Exercise and Pregnancy Helpline. The helpline is serviced by physicians, physiotherapists and athletic therapists who can help athletes, active women and women who would like to begin an exercise routine when they’re pregnant. You can call the helpline from anywhere in North America at 1-866-937-7678.

  • a healthy diet
    A healthy diet helps ensure your body has all the nutrients it needs to make a healthy baby. One essential nutrient is folic acid. Health Canada recommends taking a multivitamin with 0.4 milligrams of folic acid every day, starting at least three months before conception. Folic acid is crucial for the normal development of a baby’s spine, brain and skull, and has been shown to greatly reduce the chance of a child having neural tube defects. Other important nutrients include calcium and iron.

  • X-rays
    If you need x-rays, mention to your doctor or dentist that you are trying to get pregnant. The radiation from an x-ray can potentially harm an unborn child.

  • your cat’s litter box
    If you have a cat, it’s advisable to have someone else clean or change the litter box. A parasite called toxoplasmosis can be passed to humans through the feces of a cat. Though fairly rare, being infected with the toxoplasmosis parasite while pregnant can result in miscarriage, early delivery, stillbirth or serious harm to the fetus. (It is also possible to get toxoplasmosis from meat that is raw or undercooked, particularly pork, lamb, goat, beef or venison.)

  • hot tubs and saunas
    Avoid hot tubs, saunas or even very hot baths, as high temperatures can harm the fetus.
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