There was a time when women were expected to have a newborn in their arms before the first year of marriage was over, and pregnancies were unplanned. Today, couples plan a pregnancy when they are ready to have a little one join them. It is natural to have many questions on their mind about before planning a pregnancy. These vary from the right time to get pregnant, their age, the diet they should have, the kind of exercises that are permitted and supplements, if any.
The ideal age for getting pregnant is between 20 to 35 years. As the age increases beyond 30 years, the fertility potential starts decreasing. After 35, the decline becomes more rapid. This is due to the fact that the number of ova in a woman’s ovary are maximum at the time of her birth and start declining afterwards. This, of course, does not mean that one cannot conceive naturally after the age of 35 years, but the chances start decreasing.
The ideal BMI for Indian women is between 18 and 23. BMI or Body Mass Index is a marker of ideal body weight of a person in relation to her height. Both low as well as high BMI increase the risk of getting complications in pregnancy. Women who are underweight have a higher risk of miscarriage, premature labour and low birth weight babies. Women with higher birth weight have increased risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, hypertension, preterm labour. So, it is a good idea to start the right diet and exercises to achieve an ideal weight prior to pregnancy.
A well-balanced diet including proteins, vitamins and minerals is advised prior to getting pregnant. Whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and nuts are a good option. Excess junk food, high fat rich foods should be avoided. This should be followed by both men and women as these foods have an effect on sperm as well as ova.
Both smoking and alcohol have a deleterious effect on the gametes; sperm and ova. Quitting these would be ideal or at least they should be brought down to bare minimum. Excess caffeine more than 200 mg per day, which equates to about 2 cups of coffee per day, should be avoided as it decreases the overall fertility of both the partners.
It is important to get oneself checked by a doctor before conceiving. During the check-up, the doctor tries to find out any undetected medical disorders such as hypertension, anaemia, heart disorders, which may cause problems either to the mother or baby during pregnancy. Investigations are done to find out any undiagnosed anaemia, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, diabetes, renal disease etc. Blood group is checked and testing for thalassemia is done.
Rubella is a viral infection which has symptoms similar to common cold with a mild rash. Majority of these infections in adults are mild or even asymptomatic. However, if a mother contracts the virus when she is pregnant, the foetus can develop multiple congenital anomalies. If she gets infected with the virus in her first trimester of pregnancy, 80 percent of foetus can develop cardiac, brain, spine anomalies as well as hearing loss known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS).
If the mother has had the infection prior to pregnancy or is vaccinated against it, she will be immune to getting the infection in her lifetime and this way, her foetus too will be protected from CRS. Rubella IgG testing tells the immune status of the mother. If she is found to be non-immune, a simple vaccine is given to her before her pregnancy, to protect her and her unborn baby from the infection.
Deficiency of folic acid, which is a type of Vitamin B, is linked to many neurological, brain and spinal anomalies in the foetuses. As these organs develop very early in the pregnancy, a deficiency even at the very beginning of pregnancy can have a deleterious effect on these organs. To prevent this, any woman who is planning to conceive is started on 400 mcg of folic acid supplementation prior to getting pregnant.
So, just as we prepare in advance for a new phase in our life, it is equally important to be mindful before planning a pregnancy and get a good pre-conception counselling.
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