By Tan Yi Lin
Planning for a baby is a natural progression after marriage, and marks an exciting milestone in life. However, before you embark on this meaningful journey, you would need to learn how to better prepare your body for a baby. Here are some tips on contraceptive and medication usage to help you get started.
The first step towards increasing the chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy is to consult your doctor or gynaecologist together with your spouse. “If a couple on medications for certain conditions, is trying to conceive, it is important for them to see a doctor to review the safety of the medications,” says Dr Su Lin Lin, a consultant at the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the National University Hospital. “This is best done before the pregnancy, or at the least, once the woman is pregnant.” Discuss the general health of both parties and highlight any long-term medications, vitamins and herbs that both of you have been taking, which could impinge on the ability to conceive or affect foetal development. Medications that can increase the risk of foetal abnormalties include medications for regulating blood pressure, and epilepsy and acne medications, and should be avoided as a prelude to and during pregnancy. “For example, if a lady is on certain medications, such as some acne medications, which can affect pregnancy, she should not conceive for a stipulated period of time after stopping the medications”, cautions Dr Su. In these cases, such medications can be replaced with safe alternatives.
However, don’t simply stop any medication or treatment for a medical condition until you have consulted your doctor and decided that it is safe to do so. Maintaining your health and wellness is just as important. Being in a good physical condition will also improve the chances of conception and having a healthy baby. In addition, not all medications will impact your ability to conceive or the baby’s development. Some vitamins and supplements will actually help prepare your body for a baby. For example, it is advisable for women to take folic acid two to three months prior to conception. Men may wish to consider taking zinc supplements, which are known to help improve sperm production and quality.
It is also important to have a balanced diet with fish, green vegetables and fruits. You should also go for vaccination against diseases such as Chicken Pox, German Measles (Rubella) and Hepatitis B, if you have not done so.
If you are purchasing medication off the shelf from the pharmacy, always read the dosage, administration, and health warnings accompanying the drug to ensure that it is safe for pregnant women. If you are trying to conceive, medication deemed unsafe for pregnant women may also affect your chances of conception. When in doubt, do check with the pharmacist before making your purchase or simply avoid any treatment that is not essential.
It is also time to stop using contraceptives once you have decided to have a baby. With barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms, the return of fertility is almost immediate once you stop using them. “For couples using contraceptives, they can try to conceive as long as they stop using the contraceptives. There is no need to intentionally wait for a period of time before trying to conceive. Most of the contraceptive methods do not result in delay in fertility once they are stopped,” advises Dr Su.
However, for other forms of contraceptives, it might take some time to restore your fertility, even after you stop using them. “Certain contraceptives such as the three-monthly Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (DMPA) injections may cause a delay of the return of fertility of six to nine months,” says Dr Su.
While women on birth control pills, or have an intra-uterine device or other contraceptives implanted, can still regain normal fertility quickly, doctors may advise you to stop such methods of contraception for at least three months before you attempt to conceive. This will allow your ovulation and menstrual cycles to normalise. Having regular cycles will make it easier to predict your fertile periods and in the event that you conceive, it will be easier to pinpoint the date of conception and subsequently, your baby’s estimated due date.
You need to take into account the contraceptives you are using in your planning for a baby. It is good to have a discussion with your doctor on when and how you should stop any form of contraception before you actually do so, and how long you should wait before attempting to conceive. If you have been using contraceptive injections such as DMPA and wish to stop, your doctor may advise on the use of condoms and diaphragms while you wait for your menstrual cycles to return to normal. However, should you conceive immediately after stopping contraceptive injections, there should be no harm to the baby, but do let your doctor know about it.
Preparing your body for conception takes time and effort, so don’t leave things to the last minute. Find out the information you need to help you plan ahead, and you will be on the way to having your little bundle of joy!
With many thanks to Dr Su Lin Lin, a consultant at the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the National University Hospital, for her invaluable input.