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Thinking of trying to conceive? In this article, we give a brief overview of preconception health and female fertility.

When you and your partner decide to try for a baby, you enter into an exciting new world. Suddenly, you will have to learn about all kinds of things you only had a vague idea about before. We're not talking about how to get a baby to sleep, whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed, and other parenting decisions either. That will come later.

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Parenting is the largest adventure ever, but trying to conceive itself requires rather a lot of navigation as well. How much do you know about the medical side of getting pregnant? Have you prepared for a healthy pregnancy well enough to ditch your birth control, do you know when your chances of conception are highest, and what will you do when you are still not pregnant after a good while of trying?

First Things First — Are You Healthy Enough?

You have probably spent all of your sexually active life trying to avoid pregnancy. Stopping the use of your chosen form of birth control is usually quite enough to enable you to get pregnant, but responsible parents to-be will do more than that to prepare for pregnancy.

Starting at three months before coming off birth control, women who want to become mothers soon should take a folic acid supplement of at least 400 mg every day.

Folic acid is a B vitamin that has been proven to significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in infants. It takes a while for the body to build up stores of folic acid, and you want to make sure that you are not deficient during those early weeks right after conception.

A prenatal multivitamin supplement will often contain the right amount of folic acid, so you can look for a good comprehensive one, or opt to take folic acid and multivitamin and minerals separately — though prenatal supplements specifically cater to the needs of pregnant women and those trying to conceive, so they are a better choice. No matter which supplement you take, it will never replace a healthy and balanced diet. Both men and women who are trying to conceive should make a responsible diet a priority in life.

Before you come off your contraceptives, it is also a good idea to check in with your family doctor. People of both sexes who are planning a baby benefit from a blood test to look for nutritional deficiencies, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases is always wise — even if you have only had one partner ever.

STDs can impair fertility and some are extremely dangerous to unborn babies. “Better safe than sorry” is a good motto in this case.

Those people who have chronic diseases and are taking medications should also discuss how the condition and the medication they are taking could affect fertility and pregnancy. You and your doctor may need to make adjustments in the medication you take.

If you are currently on birth control, the appointment you make with your family doctor can also be used to discuss how to quit it. Coming off the pill or ceasing condom use is easy, but if you have an intrauterine device, you will have to have it removed. Fortunately, both the copper IUD (Paragard) and Mirena intrauterine system facilitate a speedy return to fertility. Depo provera, the hormonal birth control shot, takes longer to wear off but does not — contrary to popular belief — lead to long-term infertility problems. 

Finally, men and women who smoke, drink, or use recreational drugs should simply stop doing so. A glass of wine or a pint of beer once in a while is fine for both sexes (though women are better off only drinking that one glass before ovulation, when they are sure they are not pregnant yet). Other than that, just stay away from things that could harm your baby, and that includes steering clear of second-hand smoke.

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