Getting healthy before pregnancy

A healthy pregnancy starts before you get pregnant. It's important to know what you can do before pregnancy to help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

What can you do to have a healthy pregnancy someday?

  • Get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy to make sure you're healthy when you get pregnant. Once you're pregnant, get early and regular prenatal care.
  • Check to see if your vaccinations are up to date. Rubella (German measles) and chickenpox can cause birth defects and other problems if you get them during pregnancy.
  • Get a dental checkup. Keep up your regular dental checkups before and during pregnancy. If you have gum disease, getting treatment before pregnancy may prevent health problems in you and your baby.
  • Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for healthy growth and development. If you take it before and during early pregnancy, it can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (NTDs).
  • Eat healthy foods and get to a healthy weight. Being at a healthy weight before pregnancy may help you avoid health problems in you or your baby. Overweight, obese and underweight women are more likely than woman of a healthy weight to have pregnancy problems. Eat healthy during pregnancy and learn more about what foods to avoid during pregnancy.
  • Don't smoke, drink alcohol, use street drugs or take prescription drugs that aren't prescribed for you. And stay away from secondhand smoke. All of these things can harm your baby during pregnancy. Tell your health care provider if you need help to quit.
  • Learn about your family health history. This is a record of any health conditions and treatments that you, your partner and everyone in your families have had. It can help you make important health choices in your life.
  • Keep safe from toxoplasmosis by not eating undercooked meat or changing your cat's litter box. Undercooked meat and cat poop may have parasite in them that causes an infection called toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis can cause birth defects.
  • Keep safe from pets that are rodents, like hamsters, mice and guinea pigs. Rodents can carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV) that can harm your baby.
  • Stay away from harmful chemicals, like paint thinner. Some chemicals may increase your chances of having a baby with birth defects.
  • Get help if you've been abused by your partner. Abuse often gets worse during pregnancy.
  • Reduce the stress in your life. Too much stress can cause problems during pregnancy.

Getting fit before pregnancy

If you're thinking about pregnancy, or if you're just interested in leading a healthier lifestyle, it's time to get active!

Physical activity is any form of exercise or movement that makes your body use energy. It's key for being healthy and getting to a healthy weight. And if you do get pregnant someday, the healthier you are before pregnancy, the more likely you are to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

For example, if you're at a healthy weight before pregnancy, you're less likely than women who weigh too little or too much to have serious complications during pregnancy, like high blood pressure or diabetes. You're also less likely to have a premature baby or have a baby with a birth defect. And your baby is less likely to have his own weight problems later in life.

How do you know if you're at a healthy weight? Check your body mass index (also called BMI). BMI is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight.

How does physical activity affect your health?

Regular physical activity can lower your risk of certain medical conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Breast or colon cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes (often related to being overweight)
  • Osteoarthritis (most common form of arthritis)
  • Osteoporosis (weakens bones and affects many women)

Physical activity also can:

  • Improve your mood
  • Help you manage stress
  • Help you quit smoking
  • Help you sleep
  • Increase your energy throughout the day

What kinds of physical activity can you try?

You don't have to join a gym to get good exercise. Try activities that you like or that you can do with your partner or friends.

Activities that get your heart rate going are called aerobic. Here are some aerobic activities to try:

  • Walking
  • Riding a bike
  • Water aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Sports, like baseball, softball or volleyball

If you want a little more intensity, try these:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics
  • Sports with a lot of running, like basketball or soccer

Strength-training activities help build muscles by improving their strength and ability. These activities include:

  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Lifting weights or using weight machines
  • Using resistance bands (giant rubber bands made especially for exercising)

Stretching activities can improve your flexibility and movement. Moving freely makes it easier to reach down and tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when driving your car in reverse. Stretching activities include:

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Basic body stretches (reaching up above your head or reaching down to touch your toes)

How much physical activity can you do each day?

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that all adults get at least 2½ hours each week of moderately intense physical activity. This is about 30 minutes of physical activity on 5 or more days a week.

All adults need strengthening activities at least 2 days a week. Focus on strengthening the muscles in your legs, hips, back, chest, stomach, shoulders and arms. In each session, do 8 to 10 different activities that work out the different muscle groups in your body. Repeat exercises for each muscle group 8 to 12 times per session.

How can you stay safe when being active?

You wear your seatbelt when you drive to help keep you safe. Likewise, there are things you can do to help make sure your workouts are safe:

  • Talk to your health care provider to make sure you're in good health. Tell him about the kinds of physical activity you plan to do.
  • Start slow until you're warmed up.
  • Use the right safety gear and sports equipment.
  • Do your activity in a safe place.
  • Stop your activity if you feel faint, dizzy or nauseated, or if you have pain in your chest or trouble breathing.

Does being physically active cost money?

It doesn't have to. Sure, you can join a gym or pay to play certain sports. But you don't have to spend a lot of money to get the physical activity you need. For aerobic activity, walk or run around your neighborhood. Your local recreation center may have low-cost exercise programs that you can join. If you need to stay inside, try exercising to a workout video.

For strength training, use things you find in your house. Make your own weights-use soup cans or fill plastic bottles with water or sand. And use your own body weight by doing activities like push-ups, pull-ups or sit-ups.

What if you haven't exercised in a while?

If you've never been active or haven't been in a while, start slowly. Begin your physical activity program with short sessions of 5 to 10 minutes and build up from there.

If you haven't exercised in a long time, talk to your health provider before you start any physical activity if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have heart disease or are at high risk of having heart disease
  • Have had a stroke or are at high risk of having a stroke
  • Have diabetes or are at high risk for having diabetes
  • Are obese (BMI of 30 or more)
  • Have an injury or disability
  • Have a bleeding or detached retina
  • Had recent eye surgery or laser treatment on your eye
  • Had recent hip surgery

How can you stay motivated to keep exercising

Here are some tips to keep your workouts fun:

  • Pick activities that you like to do. If you don't like to run, don't run.
  • Mix it up. Try different activities so you don't get bored.
  • Team up with your partner or a friend.
  • Once you get into a groove, replace some moderate activities with more intense ones. For example, running for a short distance instead of walking.
  • Sneak in mini-workouts whenever you can. For example, if you have kids, make time to play with them outside. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park your car at the back end of the parking lot to make you walk farther. Get off the bus or train a few stops early and walk.

Folic acid is B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for normal growth and development. It helps your body make red blood cells that carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body.

If you take folic acid before and during early pregnancy, it can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (also called NTDs). Some studies show that it also may help prevent heart defects in a baby and birth defects in a baby's mouth called cleft lip and palate.

Here are the top things you need to know about folic acid:

  • Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can help prevent NTDs in your baby.
  • Before pregnancy, take a multivitamin that has 400 micrograms of folic acid in it every day.
  • During pregnancy, take a prenatal vitamin that has 600 micrograms of folic acid in it every day.
  • Take a multivitamin with folic acid every day, even if you're not trying to get pregnant.

Why is it important to take folic acid before pregnancy?

Taking folic acid before pregnancy can help prevent NTDs in your baby. The neural tube is the part of a developing baby that becomes the brain and spinal cord. NTDs happen in the first month of pregnancy, before you may know that you're pregnant. This is why it's important that you have enough folic acid in your body before you get pregnant.

Because nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, all women should take folic acid every day. Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, even if you're not trying to get pregnant.

NTDs affect about 3,000 pregnancies each year in the United States. If all women take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy, it may help prevent up to 7 in 10 (70 percent) NTDs.

How can you get folic acid?

Before pregnancy, take a multivitamin that has 400 micrograms of folic acid in it every day. Most multivitamins have this amount, but check the label to be sure.

During pregnancy, take a prenatal vitamin each day that has 600 micrograms of folic acid in it. You need more folic acid during pregnancy to help your baby grow and develop. Your health care provider can prescribe a prenatal vitamin for you. Or you can get prenatal vitamins over the counter without a prescription.

You also can get folic acid from food. Some flour, breads, cereals, rice and pasta have folic acid added to them. Look for the word "fortified" or "enriched" on the product label to know if it has added folic acid.

Some fruits and vegetables are good sources of folic acid. When folic acid is naturally in a food, it's called folate. Foods that are good sources of folate are:

  • Beans, like lentils, pinto beans and black beans
  • Leafy green vegetables, like spinach and Romaine lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Peanuts (But don't eat them if you have a peanut allergy.)
  • Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit
  • Orange juice (From concentrate is best.)

It's hard to get all the folic acid you need from food. So even if you eat foods that have folic acid in them, take your multivitamin each day, too.

Do some women need extra folic acid?

Yes. Most women don't need more than 1,000 micrograms of folic acid each day, but some may need more. Talk to your provider to make sure you take the right amount. You may need extra folic acid before and during pregnancy if:

  • You've had a pregnancy affected by an NTD in the past.
  • You have diabetes. This is a medical condition in which your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in your blood.
  • You're obese. This means you have an excess amount of body fat and your body mass index (also called BMI) is 30 or higher. To find out your BMI, go to
  • You have a hemoglobin disorder, like sickle cell disease. Hemoglobin disorders are rare blood conditions that are caused by problems with hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in the blood that carries oxygen.
  • You take antiseizure medicine.