A healthy pregnancy starts before a baby is conceived.
As future parents, your current health and lifestyle choices can affect your fertility, the health of your pregnancy, and the health of your future children. If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, book an appointment with your primary healthcare provider to discuss how to prepare for pregnancy.
Nine steps to prepare for pregnancy:
If having children is one of your life goals, consider making a reproductive life plan to make sure you are ready for pregnancy. 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 want to become pregnant at this time, talk to your health care provider about which form of birth control that is best for you.
After you have a baby, consider waiting 18 months before becoming pregnant again. This birth spacing will allow your body to heal and replenish nutrient stores and provide time to care for and bond with your baby. If you have experienced a pregnancy loss, speak to your health care provider about spacing of pregnancies.
All women who could become pregnant should take a multivitamin containing 400 mcg (0.4 mg) of folic acid every day. If you are planning a pregnancy, aim to take folic acid for at least three months before becoming pregnant.
Taking a multivitamin with folic acid will boost the amount of folate in your blood. This nutrient will help your baby’s brain and spine develop when you become pregnant. Women who get enough folate from multivitamins and food will have a lower risk of having a baby with birth defects of the brain and spine. These defects are commonly known as Neural Tube Defects (NTDs), including spina bifida and encephalopathy.
Taking a vitamin supplement does not reduce or replace the need for a healthy, well-balanced diet. Folate is in foods such as beans, peas, lentils, oranges, avocadoes, dark green vegetables (like spinach, broccoli, asparagus), and fortified grain products.
Some women may benefit from more then 400 mcg (0.4 mg) of folic acid per day before and during the early stages of their pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider to determine the amount that is right for you.
Women may need a higher dose of folic acid, include women with:
- a previous pregnancy affected with NTD
- a family history of other folic acid-related birth defects
- a family history of NTD (or a male partner with a family history of NTD)
Women with certain medical conditions and women taking certain medications may also need a higher dose of folic acid. These conditions and medications may include:
- celiac disease
- kidney dialysis
- alcohol overuse
- advanced liver disease
- gastric bypass surgery
- inflammatory bowel disease
- pre-pregnancy diabetes (type 1 or 2)
- antiepileptic or other folate inhibiting drugs
Visit Health Canada for more information on folic acid.
At your next appointment with your primary healthcare provider (i.e. Doctor or Nurse Practitioner), discuss your plans for pregnancy and seek advice on how to optimize your health before becoming pregnant.
Your primary healthcare provider can:
- Ensure your immunizations are up-to-date.
- Help you manage existing medical conditions in preparation for pregnancy.
- Discuss the safety of your medications and supplements.
- Check for and help you correct nutritional deficiencies, including low iron levels.
- Link you with community services to help you improve your mental and physical health.
Your oral health can also affect your pregnancy. Consider seeing a dentist before becoming pregnant.
The preconception period is an ideal time to improve eating habits. The food you eat and the nutrient levels in your body can affect the fertility of both women and men and can support a healthy pregnancy. Consider increasing your intake of vegetables and fruit, replacing sources of saturated fat (e.g., meat, butter) with sources of unsaturated fat (e.g., avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds), consuming fish weekly, and enjoying more plant-based sources of protein. To learn more about this healthy eating pattern, visit Canada’s Food Guide.
If you have a history of nutrient deficiency (e.g., low iron levels) or if you suspect you have a nutrient deficiency, talk with your health care provider about having your levels checked prior to becoming pregnant. Also ask them about which vitamin and mineral supplement is best for you.
Regular physical activity has many benefits. Exercise can help you sleep better, manage your weight, support mental health, and build the strength and endurance you will need for pregnancy, labour, and birth.
Canadian Movement Guidelines for Adults (18 – 64 years) Recommend:
- Moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activities for at least 150 minutes per week.
- Muscle strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least twice a week.
- Several hours of light physical activities everyday, including standing.
Moderate Physical Activity Examples:
- Walking briskly
- General gardening
- Light cycling
- Some household chores (e.g., vacuuming, washing floors)
- Water aerobics
Vigorous Physical Activity Examples:
- Race walking, fast walking for exercise, jogging or running
- Swimming laps / fast swimming
- Tennis (singles)
- Aerobic dancing
- Bicycling 16 kilometers per hour (10 mph) or faster
- Jumping rope
- Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
- Hiking uphill
Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Pregnancy (SOGC/CSEP, 2019)
It’s always a good time to prioritize your mental wellness. Learning how to effectively manage stress now can improve your fertility and help you manage the extra demands of pregnancy and parenthood. Schedule time every day to engage in activities that help you relax and bring you joy. To learn more strategies to improve your mental welless and manage stress, visit HealthLinkBC:
If you have mental health concerns or are taking medication for your mental health, talk to your health care provider before conception.
To learn more about local mental health services, visit our local directory.
Smoking can reduce fertility in all individuals, can complicate your pregnancy, and can harm your unborn child. The chemicals in cigarette smoke are passed from you to your unborn baby. These chemicals can decrease the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to the growing fetus. Vaping products also contain chemicals that can expose you and the fetus to chemicals, including nicotine, which have health risks.
Visit WECHU Quit Support to learn more about the resources available to help you quit smoking or vaping.
Alcohol consumption can reduce fertility in all individuals and can harm your unborn baby, even before you know you are pregnant. Avoid alcohol if:
- you are sexually active and not using birth control
- you are planning a pregnancy
- you are pregnant
Follow Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines if you are sexually active and using an effective form of birth control.
It is safest not to use recreational or street drugs, especially if you are planning a pregnancy or already pregnant. Use of these drugs, including cannabis, may affect your ability to become a parent and the health of the baby.
If you are having difficulty avoiding alcohol or recreational drugs, talk to your health care provider about the services available to help you stop safely.
My Reproductive Life Plan (Best Start, 2017)
This booklet informs future parents about how to protect their ability to have children and how to have the healthiest baby possible when they are ready. Available in English and French.
Men’s Information – How to Build a Healthy Baby (Best Start, 2015)
This guide provides information about men’s reproductive health and how to increase their chances of having a healthy baby. Available in English and French.
WECHU Quit Support: Provides a directory of programs to help you quit smoking or vaping, including nicotine replacement therapy.