Planning for Pregnancy

Planning before pregnancy is of importance to all individuals - women, men, and those who consider themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirit or queer (LGBTQ). Your health and lifestyle play an important role in protecting your fertility (the ability to reproduce) and set the stage for conception, a healthy pregnancy, and a healthy baby.

Make a reproductive life plan

A reproductive life plan helps you to consider your life goals and how children may or may not fit into these goals. Why is it important to have a reproductive health plan? With approximately 50% of all Canadian pregnancies being unplanned, planning ahead gives you time to consider your health and make changes so you can protect your fertility and be at your healthiest before conception. 

Whether or not to have children, when to have children, and how to have children is a personal decision. My Reproductive Health Plan can help you consider your options as you plan for your future. Remember to talk to your health care provider about your reproductive life plan. 

If you are sexually active  and do not wish to become a parent at this time, talk to your health care provider about a form of birth control that is best for you. 

After the birth of a baby it is best to wait at least 18 months before becoming pregnant again, but try not to wait longer than five years. If you have experienced a pregnancy loss, speak to your health care provider about spacing of pregnancies.

Preparing for a healthy pregnancy
Folic acid

Taking folic acid before and during pregnancy and breastfeeding is important for normal growth and development of your baby. Early in pregnancy, folic acid helps the baby’s spine and brain to develop. Women who do not get enough folic acid have a higher risk of having a baby with birth defects of the spine and brain, commonly known as a neural tube defect. Other benefits of folic acid are healthier hair, skin and nails.

What is folic acid?

  • Folic acid is a B vitamin found in vitamin supplements. In food, it is called folate.

What foods are high in folate?

  • Folate is in foods such as dark green vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, oranges and fortified grain products.
  • Most women do not get enough folate from food.
  • Use Canada's Food Guide for Healthy Eating to optimize your daily dietary intake of folic acid

How much folic acid do I need?

  • A multivitamin with 0.4 mg of folic acid is recommended every day if you are:
    • a woman who could become pregnant
    • planning a pregnancy
    • pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Some women may need more folic acid, if you have questions, talk to your health care provider.

Visit Health Canada for more information on folic acid.

Healthy lifestyle

Living a healthy lifestyle is important at any age and stage of life, but before and during pregnancy a healthy lifestyle has added benefits.  The following are some of the many ways to prepare for a healthy pregnancy through a healthy lifestyle.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or underweight can affect your health, fertility, your pregnancy and the health of the newborn. Speak with your health care provider about what a healthy weight is for you.
  • Be physically active. Follow the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines to help reduce health risks and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Follow Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines if you are sexually active and using an effective form of birth control. Alcohol consumption can reduce fertility in all individuals. Talk to your health care provider about your alcohol use and check information about where to get help if needed. Avoid alcohol if:
    • you are sexually active and not using birth control
    • you are planning a pregnancy
    • you are pregnant
  • Avoid smoking and second hand smoke. Smoking can reduce fertility in all individuals. If you smoke, increase your chances of becoming pregnant by quitting now. Talk to your health care provider about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Create a smoke-free home environment and seek support from your partner, family and friends. 
  • It is safest not to use recreational/street drugs, especially if you are planning a pregnancy or already pregnant. Use of recreational/street drugs, including cannabis may affect your ability to become a parent and the health of the baby. If you use drugs, talk to your health care provider about services available to help you stop safely.
  • Be aware of the environmental toxins at work and in your home. Chemicals in our environment can be harmful to our fertility, pregnancy and children. There are simple, low-cost tips to creating a healthier home environment.
  • Take care of your mental health. If you have mental health concerns or are taking medication for your mental health, talk to your health care provider before conception.  High levels of stress may affect your fertility. Learn healthy ways to reduce your stress.
  • A supportive and healthy relationship is important to your overall health. If you are experiencing abuse know this is not your fault, you are not alone, and there is help. Talk to your health care provider, someone you trust and reach out to local services.

Protect your fertility

Fertility is the ability to reproduce - have children. Trying to become a parent may take time and can have an emotional impact. If you plan to delay having children until later in life talk to your health care provider. Women 35 years of age and younger should talk to their health care provider if they have not become pregnant within a year of trying. Women over the age of 35 should see their health care provider after six months of trying to conceive. All partners should discuss fertility and health concerns with their health care provider.

Assisted reproduction is important when considering family planning for individuals without partners, LGBTQ families and those who may be having challenges becoming a parent. Seek good support services to provide guidance through the assisted reproduction process.    

Fertility and reproduction

Your health history
 See your health care provider before trying to become a parent. Discuss your:
  • Reproductive life plan
  • Lifestyle practices
  • Fertility
  • Immunization history
    • Some vaccines cannot be given during pregnancy. Find out if your immunizations are up to date before conceiving. Vaccines can prevent diseases that may affect fertility and the growth of a baby during pregnancy. Check the Public Health Agency of Canada for more information on immunizations before pregnancy.
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) history
    • STI(s) can cause permanent damage to an individual's ability to become a parent and can cause health problems for both the mom and the baby during pregnancy. Some STIs have no symptoms which could mean that the individual may not know that they have an STI. Get tested before planning to have children.
  • Medical conditions and genetics
    • Ensure your medical conditions are under control before conceiving and if possible become familiar with your family history.
  • Medication use
    • Discuss both prescription and over-the-counter medications, and herbal products you use. Do not stop taking prescription medications until you have discussed this with your health care provider.
  • Oral health
    • Your oral health may impact your pregnancy health. See a dentist before becoming pregnant.
Pregnancy loss
Some pregnancies end in loss. It is important for women who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth to seek medical care. Talk to your health care provider about support available.

For more information on pregnancies, check Healthy Pregnancy.

More information on this topic can be found on the Health Before Pregnancy website.

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