What hopeful mothers-to-be should know before conceiving
Women considering pregnancy are encouraged to make a preconception appointment with their health care providers to discuss family planning, prenatal care, and ways to optimize health for both mother and baby. Here, women participate in a learning exercise during “Baby Bootcamp,” which is part of Fort Irwin National Training Center’s New Parent Support Program. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Julie Felix)
Experiencing a healthy pregnancy involves the ability to plan ahead, stay informed, and take care of your overall health. The Military Health System is encouraging women who are newly pregnant or considering becoming pregnant to talk to their health care providers about family planning, prenatal care, delivery, and postpartum care. Women who are not seeking to become pregnant should discuss contraceptive options with their provider.
Dr. Lindsey Borgia, an Army captain and obstetrician-gynecologist at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in northern Virginia, said there are things all women – even those with pre-existing conditions – can do to optimize their health for pregnancy.
“We would encourage any woman who is considering pregnancy, but especially those with pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, history of cancer, and prior pregnancy complications, to see an obstetrician for a preconception visit,” said Borgia.
Such visits can ensure women are free from conditions that could make a pregnancy difficult or even dangerous.
The Guidelines for Women’s Health Care developed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women capable of becoming pregnant develop a reproductive care plan, she said. Coming up with a care plan gives women the opportunity to consider their goals, such as education, career, and whether or not they would like to have children, and how to best achieve those goals. An appointment with a health care provider gives patients and physicians a chance to ask questions, voice concerns, and talk about health conditions, family medical history, and vaccinations.
Theresa Hart, a nurse consultant and program manager for perinatal pediatrics and special medical programs at the Defense Health Agency, said the growth and development of a fetus is affected by many aspects of the mother’s health, including nutritional status, medical conditions, age, and prenatal care. It can also be affected by a mother’s use of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, prescribed medications, herbal remedies, and dietary supplements.
“Your provider can recommend to you and your partner ways to get the proper nutrition, establishing health habits to support the baby and learn to avoid or decrease habits whose effects could impact the baby,” said Hart, adding that mothers may receive recommendations to start vitamins and folic acid before pregnancy to support the baby’s growth from the beginning.
Women are encouraged to prepare for pregnancy by avoiding alcohol and tobacco, exercising daily for at least 30 minutes, and eating a healthy diet. A health care provider can also discuss ways to manage stress, optimize weight, and make healthy lifestyle changes – all of which can affect a woman’s ability to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy.
Whether a woman is newly pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, she should also be aware of any risks associated with specific medicines and discuss any medications with her physicians. The influenza vaccine and the tetanus, diptheria and acellular pertussis vaccine – also known as “Tdap” – are recommended for most women during pregnancy.
“Obstetric care is a team sport,” said Borgia, describing the support system between a patient, her loved ones, prenatal providers, and delivery staff.
Pregnancy can bring up many questions, emotions, and concerns, making it important to have the right support group in place when planning ahead. Services available at the nearest hospital may make it possible to choose who will provide prenatal care, including a certified nurse midwife, nurse practitioner, family practice physician, obstetrician-gynecologist, or maternal fetal medicine specialist.
In addition, many support programs and services are available at military installations and hospitals. Military OneSource has many online resources as well.
“Women have a lot of power to optimize their health before, during, and after pregnancy,” said Borgia. “It is important that our patients understand that they are not alone and that their health care team wants to make every effort to support them.”
For additional information on healthcare coverage and providers, please visit the TRICARE website.