by Ann Douglas
Does "having a baby" top your list of New Year's Resolutions? There's no time like the present to start preparing your body for pregnancy. Whether this is your first time up at bat or you're hoping to conceive your second or subsequent baby, there's plenty you and your partner can do right now to increase your odds of giving birth to a healthy baby.
Here are some answers to the preconception-health related questions that are likely running through your head right about now.
A generation ago, your doctor would have thought you were crazy for trying to set up a checkup before you were pregnant. Today, it's fast becoming the norm. The reason is obvious: the most critical period in your baby's development occurs before you even know that you're pregnant.
In addition to having a full physical examination, you'll want to find out from your doctor:
Most preconception health authorities recommend that women who are planning a pregnancy take 0.4 mg of folic acid daily for two to three months before becoming pregnant and for the first four weeks after getting pregnant. Other health authorities take things one step further, recommending that a woman take folic acid throughout her childbearing years, whether or not she is consciously planning a pregnancy.
Note: If you have a family history of neural tube defects, you've previously given birth to a baby with a neural tube defect, or you are taking certain medications to control diabetes or epilepsy, you will require a higher-than-average dosage of folic acid. Your doctor or midwife will be able to make specific recommendations, based on your medical history.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to have the body of a supermodel in order to get pregnant. In fact, it's probably best if you've got a little more padding than that. You see, if your body fat percentage drops below a certain level, you stop ovulating.
That's not to say that you want to be overly plump when you embark on a pregnancy, however: studies have shown that obese women face a higher-than-average risk of experiencing certain types of fertility problems and pregnancy-related complications.
If you do need to shed a few pounds, go at it sensibly and slowly. Crash dieting can cause your body to stop ovulating temporarily and deplete your body of its nutrient stores -- the last things you want when you're planning a pregnancy.
Because smoking has been shown to contribute to fertility problems as well as pregnancy-related complications and complications in the newborn, there's no time like the present to kick that particular habit. And as for drinking, most health experts agree that you should plan to give up alcoholic beverages as soon as you start trying to conceive.