Why Good Health Matters Before Pregnancy

woman consulting with a free doctor at a clinic

Being healthy before pregnancy is good for both moms and their children — often preventing complications.

But unfortunately, more than half of women enter pregnancy with a risk factor for cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of maternal deaths. Some people, such as Black and Latina women, and those with lower incomes are especially at risk for pre-existing health problems. They also face higher death rates during pregnancy.

Another concern is lack of access to quality health care across the U.S. One study showed women living in rural areas, such as in the southeast, had poorer heart health prior to getting pregnant.

Other factors, such as structural racism, lower education level and lack of health insurance, can also limit the care a woman receives.

Some medical problems that complicate pregnancy — such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure — can often be managed with proper care. And better health care during reproductive years benefits women today and increases the likelihood of healthier tomorrows for future generations.

More things to know about health before pregnancy

An early start makes a difference. The time to plan for pregnancy is long before you want to get pregnant. All women of reproductive age — even those who aren’t actively trying to get pregnant — should make strides to get and stay healthy. Regular checkups with a health care professional will help you understand your body and allow your doctors to address health concerns and develop a plan to manage pre-existing conditions.

Proactive changes are essential. A woman’s health status before pregnancy depends on several factors, such as age, lifestyle habits, access to medical care and chronic stress. Luckily, many unhealthy behaviors are modifiable. Some of these include exercising, quitting smoking, drinking alcohol and doing drugs and maintaining a healthy weight. One in five women are obese at the beginning of their pregnancy — increasing risk of complications. Women who enter pregnancy underweight are also at risk for serious health problems. Women should also begin taking a daily prenatal vitamin before becoming pregnant to be sure they receive the recommended vitamins and minerals before and during pregnancy.

Early weeks of pregnancy are important for development. About half of all pregnancies aren’t planned. Women are at greater risk for complications, such as delivering a preterm or underweight baby, when the pregnancy wasn’t planned. Birth defects occur weeks after conception, before most women realize they’re pregnant. During the first eight weeks of pregnancy, major organs are developing in a fetus.

Babies face fewer risks when mom is healthy. Early prenatal care means better odds of delivering a healthier baby. Some birth defects can’t be prevented. But behaviors such as smoking and drinking alcohol increase the risk of birth defects, premature birth and death.

Take care of your mental health. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can worsen mental health. Depression and anxiety are medical conditions that affect many women during pregnancy or within a year after delivery. Seeking help to improve mental health before pregnancy is vital.