Reproductive health and pregnancy planning can be among the most important decisions in a woman’s (or a couple’s) life. Preventing, planning for, and actively trying to conceive are all components of reproductive health that women and couples must consider. These areas can be sources of stress and worry. But with education and knowledge, women and couples can gain a sense of control. Whether your goal is to prevent pregnancy or to become pregnant, it is important to partner with your healthcare provider. Discussions regarding reproductive health are important to ensure your goals are met.
Here are some helpful tips whether you are preventing or planning pregnancy:
If You’re Trying to Conceive:
- Start a preconception or prenatal vitamin prior to trying to conceive.
- Make sure your preventative health care (such as pap smears) is up to date.
- Review your medical and immunization history and medications with your healthcare provider. Make sure nothing needs to be updated or changed prior to pregnancy.
Lifestyle Issues to Consider When Planning Pregnancy or Trying to Conceive:
- To maximize chances for a healthy pregnancy, aim for a healthy weight for height. There are numerous body mass index or BMI calculators online. Most will then offer an explanation for your personalized BMI reading and tips to adjust the number for optimal health.
- To decrease miscarriage risk, limit caffeine to 1 cup of coffee (or less) per day.
- Stop smoking. Cigarette smoking decreases fertility, increases the risk for miscarriage, and is bad for overall health.
- Do not use recreational drugs.
- Discontinue or limit alcohol, and stop drinking completely when pregnant.
- Continue a moderate exercise program.
- Track your menstrual cycle (there are many apps available for this) to learn if your cycle is regular and help predict your window of fertility.
- Make sure your timing is correct: the fertile window is the 6 days leading up to and including ovulation. The goal is to have intercourse about every other day during this time. Ovulation predictor kits can make it easier to identify the most fertile window.
- Seek consultation with a Reproductive Endocrinologist and Infertility specialist if:
- You are less than 35 years old and have been having unprotected intercourse for a year without a successful pregnancy.
- You are 35 years or older and been having unprotected intercourse for 6 months without a successful pregnancy.
- Your cycles are irregular, shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days (this may mean you are not ovulating), or if you have prolonged bleeding (this may caused by a polyp, fibroid, or infection).
- You have a history of pelvic surgery, have severely painful periods or you have been diagnosed with endometriosis.
Preventing Pregnancy Tips:
There are many effective contraception options available but the only one that is 100% effective is abstinence.
Choosing the best contraception depends a lot on you! You will need to discuss the options with your healthcare provider in the context of your medical history and reproductive goals. Some contraception options will not be compatible with your personal medical history.
There are two main classes of contraceptives: reversible and permanent. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists offers a great resource regarding each method on their “For Patients” web page.
- Reversible contraceptives can be reversed (or discontinued) to achieve pregnancy in the future. Each method is effective when used correctly. Long-acting reversible contraceptives are the most effective for preventing pregnancy because there is less chance for user error. Reversible contraceptives include:
- Barrier (condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, sponge)
- Hormonal (oral contraceptive pills, patch, vaginal ring)
- Long-acting reversible contraceptives (intrauterine device/IUD) implant, injection)
- Only use permanent contraceptives if you no longer desire to become pregnant. These include:
- Tubal sterilization (for women)
- Vasectomy (for men)
Each option has potential positive and negative non-contraceptive side effects. Not every option will work for every woman due to these side effects. If one method does not work for you, do not give up! Talk with your healthcare provider and try a different method until you find one that is compatible with your body.
This article should not replace a medical professional’s guidance. For more information regarding reproductive facts visit reproductivefacts.org or visit a professional healthcare provider.
This article was originally published in our Spring 2017 magazine issue.