As with so many things in life, it pays to be prepared—and conception is no exception. At least 90 days before starting to try to conceive, both men and women should take steps to improve their diet and exercise routines, as well as fine-tune any medications they may be taking to make sure they are friendly to the developing fetus.
"If you optimize all those things, you'll improve your fertility, reduce the risk of miscarriage and enhance the outcome of pregnancy, meaning both mother and baby will be healthier," says Lisa C. Mazzullo, M.D., clinical assistant professor of obstetrics at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and co-author of Before Your Pregnancy: A 90-Day Guide for Couples on How to Prepare for a Healthy Conception.
For men, the 90 days before conception are crucial because that's the developmental life cycle of sperm.
"That's the time to eliminate things in a man's diet and lifestyle that can be a concern and improve upon things to increase the health of sperm," says Dr. Mazzullo.
For women, what they do during that 90-day period can increase their chances of becoming pregnant. They also can help reduce the risk for complications as long as they continue their good habits until delivery.
With this in mind, Dr. Mazzullo offers these suggestions for pregnancy preparedness.
Mind your meds
At least 90 days before trying to conceive, women with chronic conditions, such as asthma, high blood pressure, a seizure disorder, or diabetes, should see their doctor and obstetrician-gynecologist to make sure their conditions are stable and their medication regimens won't be harmful to a fetus.
If necessary, blood work may be needed to fine-tune your medication use. A preconception visit also can help your doctor troubleshoot for diseases or conditions you may not know you have that can prevent pregnancy or interfere with the healthy development of your baby.
In some cases, you may be advised to stop taking certain medications. If so, "a month or two in advance of conception is the time you'll need to get the medication out of your system," says Dr. Mazzullo.
If you're on psychiatric medication, you also should meet with your doctor or psychiatrist about weaning down to the lowest possible dose.
"You won't be mentally at your best, which can affect how well you take care of yourself," cautions Dr. Mazzullo. "If you're depressed or anxious, for example, you may not eat right or exercise, which is important for conception, as well as fetal growth and development. You also may be at higher risk for postpartum depression after delivery."
If you're traveling abroad and need specific immunizations, get them three months before you try to conceive. "You'll need the vaccines that far ahead so it's safe to conceive," she says.
Certain medications also can affect sperm quality and sexual performance, which is why men who take medications also need to check in with their doctors if they're being treated for a chronic illness.
Take folic acid
It's important that women hoping to conceive get at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily at least one month before conception, particularly if their diet doesn’t contain adequate green leafy vegetables and other sources of folic acid.
"By getting adequate folic acid in advance, you can reduce the risk for neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida," says Dr. Mazzullo. The recommended dose for folic acid may be higher if a woman has a personal or family history of neural tube defects.
After you become pregnant, you most likely will need to switch to a prenatal vitamin, so talk to your health care provider.