Resolutions usually come with a brand new year. If yours involve preparing for a baby in the family, this is one article for you to read. With the recent announcement of the enhanced Marriage & Parenthood Package , couples who are planning for a new addition to the family may contemplate trying for one this year.What do you need to know to prepare for your pregnancy? Do you need to adopt changes in lifestyle or diet even before embarking on your baby-making endeavours? When should a couple seek help with conception?Maybe Baby (MB) asked Dr Lim Min Yu (LMY), Associate Consultant from the National University Hospital (NUH) Women’s Centre, about the concerns of a parent-to-be.
MB: What are the key lifestyle banes to avoid when planning for a baby?
LMY: Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and illegal drug use are not recommended if you are trying for a baby. You should seek professional advice if you have difficulty trying to quit smoking.
MB : Do you recommend any preconception health checks?
LMY: Before trying for a pregnancy, it is advisable to know if the female partner is immune to Rubella (German measles). Most people would have been vaccinated against Rubella in school, but some people require booster doses of the vaccine. The reason for this is that contracting Rubella infection during pregnancy can lead to congenital defects such as deafness, eye and heart defects in the fetus. Babies may also have developmental delay and learning disabilities. Therefore if a woman is not immune to Rubella, she would be recommended to have vaccination done before actively trying to become pregnant.
Thalassemia is an inherited condition, where haemoglobin formation is affected. It is more common in South East Asia, and if two parents are carriers of thalassemia, there is a 25% chance of having a baby with thalassemia major. Therefore you may consider having a blood test for thalassemia screening before trying for pregnancy.
MB: What are the tests available to check for genetic diseases and potential pregnancy complications?
LMY: Genetic tests have been developed for over 2,000 diseases. However, their effectiveness in detecting potential problems needs to be furtherassessed. . Many of these tests have been developed with very limited scientific information, and we do not know if they provide valid or useful information. Several tests may have been prematurely marketed to the general public through the mass media such as magazines and newspapers, the internet and TV.
MB: How soon should one adopt a healthy lifestyle prior to trying for a baby?
LMY: As soon as you are considering starting a family. The couple should exercise regularly and maintain a well-balanced diet.
• While there is no evidence that any specific dietary components will improve your chances of conceiving, it is still good to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as reducing fat consumption.
• Take folic acid. Folic acid is a vitamin that is important in the development of your baby’s nervous system. Taking at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, from when you decide you want to start a family, until you are 12 weeks pregnant can help to reduce the chance of your baby developing a nervous system developmental problem called a neural tube defect. Spina Bifida is one example of a neural tube defect.
• Eat and drink sensibly. In particular, aim to take more calcium and iron, as these are vital for healthy development of your baby. Current research indicates that high levels of caffeine can result in miscarriage or low birth weight, so you should limit your caffeine intake to two cups of coffee or cola a day. Seafood should be thoroughly cooked, and unpasteurised cheeses should be avoided. Advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on alcohol intake says there is no evidence a couple of units once or twice a week will do any harm to the baby, however many women choose to avoid alcohol completely once they find out they are pregnant.
MB: When should a couple who has been trying unsuccessfully for a baby, seek medical help with conception?
LMY: The medical definition of infertility is the failure to conceive after 12 months of unprotected intercourse. Some couples may want to seek medical help earlier, especially if they have any significant medical history, for example previous testicular injury or surgery for the male, or ovulation disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), in females.
If you are a woman 35 years or below, you should see a fertility specialist if you have not conceived after trying for one year. If you are older than 35, you should make an appointment to see a doctor sooner for investigations to determine the cause of your inability to conceive, and what management options there are.
MB: Do you recommend the use of alternative medicines such as traditional Chinese medicines and/or acupressure massages in helping couples to conceive successfully?
LMY: From the medical point, there is a lack of rigorous scientific research on alternative therapies.
Being equipped with basic advice by medical experts and parenthood information would likely be sufficient to address your fertility concerns to preparing for a baby. What other issues do couples need to take note of other than the medical aspects of pregnancy?
Other areas of concern would likely include involving your spouse and family members in the preparation for a new addition, re-designing your daily routine to get more rest , getting extra help, or even considering taking sabbatical leave to improve your health for a smoother pregnancy. So if you are planning for a new addition to your household this year, it sure is time to get into action!
I Love Children thanks Dr Lim Min Yu, Associate Consultant from the National University Hospital (NUH) Women’s Centre for his professional inputs.