My friends who have children fall into two basic categories: those who were “surprised” by their pregnancies and those who spent months planning and preparing to conceive. I never said it, but I always thought it was such a nice thought to not be trying to have a baby and discover you were pregnant. It seemed to me that charts, plans, calendars, and tests took a lot of the romance and miracle out of the conception of a baby. It wasn’t until I sat down with one of the “planners” for a talk about everything she had put into preparing for her pregnancy that I really realized how important these plans might be to the health of both mother and child during pregnancy, birth, and infancy. Everyone is worried about what to expect when they are expecting, but what should they expect when they are expecting to expect? The answer, fortunately, is far less confusing.

Pregnancy and childbirth are not minor events in life, and while many are delighted at the prospect of being surprised by a pregnancy, many others would prefer the opportunity to plan bringing their children into the world. For them, it is about much more than just the timing element. Of course, being able to choose the timing of pregnancy based on finances, work, or other life events adds a potentially highly beneficial element of control to the process. Planning a pregnancy, however, is also about making sure your baby has the best place in which to grow and develop prior to birth.

Adequate prenatal care is one of the most critical aspects of ensuring the healthy carrying and delivery of a baby. Research has shown the importance of preconception care may be just as important. It is essential to remember a baby is growing within a woman’s body, and it is not just what she does after discovering her pregnancy, but what she does well before conception that will have a tremendous impact on the health of her pregnancy and her baby.

There are many things women can do prior to conceiving to help keep themselves and their future babies safe and healthy. One of the most important is cleansing their bodies and preparing them to offer their babies a healthy, nourishing and protective place to develop. This means, obviously, ending destructive habits such as drinking alcohol and smoking, but also means taking supplements, particularly folic acid. Folic acid has been shown to be a vital nutrient for prenatal development. In addition to correlations between women taking folic acid prior to conception and lower instances of miscarriage and neural tube disorders, recent research has indicated that folic acid supplementation lowers the risk of a child developing facial clefts and other orofacial deformities.

Source: Shaw GM, et al.  March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, Emeryville, USA. Lancet [1995, 346(8972): 393-396]