Having a healthy baby is a joy. Happily, there are ways to prepare for pregnancy that can help assure your baby’s health. Even before you conceive, there are things you can learn from your doctor and things you can do yourself that will help you have a healthy baby. It’s called “preconception planning,” and it’s part of a healthy approach to pregnancy.

By working with your doctor before conception and planning ahead for your pregnancy, you can take control of many factors that might otherwise put your pregnancy at risk and could lead to problems with your baby’s health. Click here for a list of recommended books to read during your pregnancy, Reading List.

Preconception planning should begin at least three months before you stop birth control or begin trying to conceive, so you’ll have time to take control and make health changes, if necessary. Even if this is not your first pregnancy, it is important to plan ahead. This information discusses some of the areas where problems can begin and what you can do to reduce the risk of these problems. As you read through it, make notes about areas that concern you, then use this information as a basis for discussion with your doctor. He or she will play an important role in preconception planning and will always be your best source for information and help before and during your pregnancy.

When a woman misses her period, she may already be two weeks pregnant. If she waits before calling her doctor, she may not get medical advice on pregnancy until eight to ten weeks after she has conceived. It may be several weeks before a doctor can see her and start advising her on how to provide a healthy start for a new baby.

Studies have shown that the first 12 weeks after conception are critical for the fetus. The period of greatest sensitivity for the developing fetus is between the 17th and 56th day (2 to 8 weeks) after conception, when the fertilized egg attached itself to the uterine wall and begins to grow. It is during this period that the fetus’ cells organize and differentiate themselves, and vital organs begin to form.

The fetus is extremely vulnerable during this time – a time when you may not even know you’re pregnant. That’s why it’s important to start planning before you conceive, so that even during the first weeks of your pregnancy you’ll be giving your baby the best care.