Before you Conceive

Because approximately half of pregnancies are not planned, women of childbearing age should start taking steps to improve their health, even before getting pregnant. Each year, about 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States is affected by a birth defect, a leading cause of death in the first year of life.

Women who improve their health before pregnancy can be healthier mothers and have healthier babies. Healthier women have less chance of having other problems with pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, miscarriage or preterm labor. Their babies have less chance for problems, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, high birth weight or stillbirth.

What is preconception health and what does it involve?

A woman’s health before pregnancy is called preconception health (PCH). By improving your health before becoming pregnant, a woman can be better prepared for pregnancy and be as healthy as possible during and after pregnancy.

The main goal of PCH is to provide health promotion and education, screening for diseases, and medical care for women of childbearing age (18-44 years) to improve their health and to address factors that might affect future pregnancies.

Planning for Pregnancy

Get started here: Use this checklist to help you set your preconception health goals for the year. Most importantly, start planning for the following:

Get 400 Micrograms of Folic Acid Every Day

Folic acid is a B vitamin (found in most dark leafy green vegetables). If a woman has enough folic acid in her body at least 1 month before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine. Read more about the benefits of folic acid here.

Start taking a daily prenatal vitamin (with sufficient folic acid) as soon as you decide to begin trying to conceive.


Stop Drinking Alcohol, Smoking, and Using Street Drugs

Alcohol, smoking, and using street drugs cause many problems during pregnancy for a woman and her baby, such as premature birth, birth defects, and infant death.

If you are trying to get pregnant and cannot stop drinking, smoking, or using drugs―get help! Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), visit, or search our resource directory to find a treatment center or support group in your area.


Maintain a Healthy Weight

Overweight or obese women have a higher risk for many serious conditions: complications during pregnancy, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon). 

People who are underweight are also at risk for serious health problems. Stay active, but don't start any new exercise routines while pregnant. The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight includes a lifestyle that requires healthy eating and regular physical activity.

If you are underweight, overweight, or obese, talk with your doctor about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight before you get pregnant.


Family History

Sharing your family's genetic history information with your doctor can be important.

Based on your family history, your doctor might refer you for genetic counseling. Other reasons people go for genetic counseling include having had several miscarriages, infant deaths, or trouble getting pregnant (infertility), or a genetic condition or birth defect that occurred during a previous pregnancy.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Oral Health

Many people don't realize the connection between healthy pregnancies and oral health. However, pregnancy is a unique time in your life and the rise in hormone levels causes the gums to swell, bleed, and trap food, causing increased irritation to your gums. Preventive dental work is essential to avoid oral infections such as gum disease, which has been linked to preterm birth. 

Regular oral health checkups before and during pregnancy may be protective against poor maternal and birth outcomes, as poor oral health is also linked to gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and low birthweight babies.

Source: March of Dimes, National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center