Your role as parent begins long before you hear that first cry in the delivery room. In fact, I suggest setting up an appointment with your doctor when you first starting thinking about family planning. Why? Because there are steps you can take towards promoting health in your future children before they are even conceived.

It’s amazing how pregnancy-related lifestyle changes don’t feel like deprivation when you know you are doing it for the benefit of your future offspring. If someone told me today to give up my caffeine, I would shudder at the thought. However, I was happy to cut back on coffee intake when trying to get pregnant with my daughter. In fact, I felt proud that I was doing something for her. (Please note: There is some debate over the exact amount of caffeine that can be consumed during pregnancy, so be sure to discuss your individual situation with your health care provider.)

Prenatal vitamins are a good example of something to start during the planning stages. It is recommended that pregnant women take prenatal vitamins containing iron and folic acid for three months prior to getting pregnant. Folic acid helps decrease the risk of neural tube defects which are serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Iron prevents anemia and ensures that your red blood cells are carrying enough oxygen to you and your baby.

Before getting pregnant, I also suggest asking your doctor about the latest recommendations on dietary restrictions like sushi, unpasteurized cheese, alcohol, and seafood. There are also limitations on certain activities that require balance like skiing, and on certain aerobic exercises that greatly increase your heart rate.

Even if you already have children, it’s a good idea to touch base with your physician prior to conceiving. Medicine is a developing field and there may be new technologies or changes in recommendations since your first pregnancy.

There are also many options for genetic testing available and depending on your age and background, your physician will make different suggestions. Some require a simple blood test from both parents, while others are more involved like amniocentesis. For more information on the available testing prior to pregnancy and during the first and second trimesters, visit ACOG.org.

During delivery, some parents choose to save their child’s cord blood (from the umbilical cord), a process called cord blood banking. There are now private and public banks available and your physician can help you decide if cord blood banking is right for you and guide you towards the best option for your family. Click HERE to learn more about some of the benefits and limitations of banking cord blood.

There is a lot to discuss with your doctor both before and during your pregnancy, and I have only scratched the surface in this short post. Be sure to attend all of your prenatal visits so you have ample opportunity for discussion and monitoring as you enter the world of parenthood.