Your pregnancy health check
Being prepared to get pregnant is not just about your physical health, but about your emotional and social well-being. Feeling "ready" to have a baby is different for every woman and her partner, and will depend on many things such as whether you have had children before, experienced a complicated pregnancy, and your family relationships.
It is important to involve your GP in your pregnancy planning. You GP will take a thorough medical and family history, discuss any health problems that you or your partner may have, and do a physical examination to check your blood pressure and general health. You GP will also be able to organise blood tests, vaccinations, cervical screening and other tests, discuss lifestyle changes that you may want to make, and refer you for a specialist opinion for any medical problems if needed.
A woman's weight during pregnancy has important effects on their pregnancy, birth and may even have an effect your baby's health as an adult. Being overweight can increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and Cesarean birth. Your size is usually assessed by calculating your "body mass index" or BMI. The ideal range for pregnancy is between 18.5 and 25. Ask your doctor about your BMI and discuss ways to get advice and support if you need to manage your weight before conceiving.
All women planning to get pregnant should be taking a daily supplement of 0.5mg folic acid for at least one month before falling pregnant. Folic acid is a vitamin that helps the development of a baby's brain and spinal cord. A well-balanced diet will provide you with most of the nutrients that you need, but an additional folic acid supplement is still important. It can help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. Some women may need a higher dose of folic acid (5mg), particularly women with pre-existing diabetes, on regular medication, or women who are very overweight.
Iodine supplementation is also recommended to help your baby's brain development. The recommended dose is 150mcg per day.
Some women may also require iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, or calcium supplementation. You can discuss this with your doctor.
Some medications may not be safe while you are pregnant. You should bring a list of your medications with you to your GP so that their safety in pregnancy can be checked. This includes any herbal or traditional medicines that you are using regularly. It is important to look after your health. Do not stop any of your regular medications without checking with your doctor first. You can also discuss the safety of your medications with your pharmacist. If you think you may be pregnant and are concerned about medications, call the national Medicine Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) Monday to Friday, 9 am – 5 pm.
When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it crosses from the mother’s blood stream into the baby’s blood stream and can affect the baby’s development. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) refers to a range of conditions that result from brain damage caused by alcohol exposure before birth. Other effects of alcohol exposure during pregnancy can include premature birth and low birth weight.
Many women who drink alcohol before getting pregnant reduce or stop their drinking once their pregnancy is diagnosed. However, they may have been drinking alcohol during the first few weeks of pregnancy before they knew they are pregnant. There is evidence to show that drinking during the first few weeks of pregnancy can have an impact on a child's development.
The safest option is to abstain from drinking if you are planning a pregnancy.
Every puff you take on a cigarette has an immediate effect on your body and your pregnancy. Smoking affects how the embryo implants and grows because it affects the blood flow in your womb and contains harmful toxins. It also reduces the amount of oxygen available to your baby if you continue to smoke during pregnancy. The earlier you quit, the greater the benefits for you and your baby. If you quit before or during your first three months of pregnancy, you will lower the risk that your baby will be born too early or too small. For more information and support, call the Quitline on tel:137848 or visit www.helptoquit.com.au.
If you or or partner have a relative with a genetic condition, you may be at increased risk of having a child with a genetic condition. Examples of inherited genetic diseases include thalassemia, cystic fibrosis, fragile X syndrome, spinal muscular atrophy, and haemophilia. Some ethnic groups are at increased risk of specific genetic conditions. If you have a relative with a genetic condition, you should discuss this with your GP. Your GP can refer you to a genetic counsellor or medical geneticist for further advice and testing if needed.
The majority of children born with an inherited genetic disease are born into families with no other affected family members. This occurs because a healthy couple can pass on genetic changes to their child without knowing that they are "carriers" of that condition.
Genetic carrier testing for couples without a family history of an affected relative is not usually covered by Medicare or a public hospital. The cost of testing for three of the most common genetic conditions - cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, and fragile X syndrome - is between $250-$300. For further information, see resources below. https://www.vcgs.org.au/tests/...
There are some infections that can cause birth defects, miscarriage or preterm birth if a woman is infected around the time of conception or in first trimester. See our resources below for keeping yourself safe.