Pregnancy planning is important to help prevent exposure of the mother and fetus to potentially harmful medications and substances during the early days, and throughout the pregnancy. Nutritional planning, prevention of birth defects, conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease need careful monitoring. Gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and pregnancy induced hypertension are conditions that may arise during pregnancy. Immunizations, inherited disorders, exercise, air travel, intercourse, and birth control are important factors to consider when planning a pregnancy.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Having a baby is one of the most important events in a woman's life. Women considering pregnancy are encouraged to start planning for the pregnancy with their partners and healthcare professionals early. Such preparation is called pregnancy planning. The goal is to create a healthy environment for the fetus and to prevent birth defects and other pregnancy related problems to the greatest extent possible. The issues addressed during pregnancy planning include nutrition, vitamins, body weight, exercise, avoidance of certain medications and alcohol, immunizations, and genetic counseling. Even though many women will have normal pregnancies without any preparation, pregnancy planning improves the chances of a smooth pregnancy and a healthy baby. Unfortunately, many more women who are anticipating conceiving do not seek prior medical consultation.
Pregnancy planning can help prevent exposure of the mother to potentially harmful medications or substances during the early days of pregnancy. The baby's organs begin developing as early as 17 days after conception, and the fertilized egg begins to grow even before the first day of the missed period. Some women continue to have light bleeding that may be mistaken for a menstrual period during the first few months of pregnancy and may not even realize that they are pregnant. Others may not recognize that they are pregnant until they experience weight gain or abdominal enlargement. By then, they may have already been exposed to medications or substances potentially harmful to the fetus.
In addition to avoiding medications and substances that are potentially harmful to the fetus, other important health issues are addressed during pre-pregnancy planning.
The status of the woman's immunity against German measles (rubella) and varicella (chickenpox) is also determined. Women lacking rubella antibodies are immunized before conceiving (see medical issues below). Women who are not immune to varicella (chickenpox) can be vaccinated, but should wait 30 days after vaccination before becoming pregnant.
Women who are carriers of the hepatitis B virus can be identified by blood tests, and their infants can be protected from hepatitis B infection by immunizations at the time of delivery. Women with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection should take certain medications during pregnancy to decrease not only their risks but those of the fetus as well.
The effects of diet, exercise, and each of the medical conditions previously discussed will be reviewed below.
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Most women equate a
missed menstrual periodwith
the possibility of being pregnant, but other symptoms and signs are experienced by most women in the
early stages of pregnancy. It's important to remember that not all women will
experience all of these symptoms or have the symptoms to the same degree. Even
the same woman can have different types of symptoms in a subsequent pregnancy
than she had in previous pregnancies.
The following are the most common pregnancy symptoms in the first
A missed menstrual period is most often the first sign
although a woman may still experience some bleeding or spotting around the time
of the expected period. However, if a woman does not have regular menstrual
cycles, she may notice some of the other symptoms of early pregnancy before it
is apparent that the menstrual period has been missed.
Feelings of breast swelling, tenderness, or pain are also commonly
associated with early pregnancy. These symptoms are sometimes similar to the
sensations in the breasts in the days before an expected menstrual period.