How long before becoming pregnant should a woman start preparing for pregnancy? What are the five most important things she should do before pregnancy for her and her baby’s health?

Every man and woman should prepare for pregnancy before becoming sexually active, or at least three months before conception. Women should begin some of the recommendations even sooner – such as quitting smoking, reaching healthy weight, and adjusting medications. Planning for pregnancy is also a good time to talk about other concerns. Issues such as intimate partner domestic violence, mental health, and previous pregnancy problems need to be discussed. Although men and women can do much on their own, a health care provider is necessary for finding and treating existing health problems. They can also help a woman improve her health before pregnancy.

The five most important things a woman can do for preconception health are:

  • Take 400 mcg of folic acid a day for at least 3 months before becoming pregnant to reduce the risk of birth defects.
  • Stop smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • If you currently have a medical condition, be sure it is under control before trying to get pregnant. Conditions include, but are not limited to asthma, diabetes, oral health, obesity, or epilepsy. Be sure that your vaccinations are up to date.  There is evidence that good oral health can decrease the risk of miscarriage, so see your dentist before trying to get pregnant.
  • Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about any over the counter and prescription medicines you are taking, including vitamins, and dietary or herbal supplements.  Some herbal supplements can cause infertility, such as St. John’s Wort. 
  • Avoid exposures to toxic substances or potentially infectious materials at work or at home, such as chemicals, or cat and rodent feces.  See our article on reproductive hazards.