Get chronic conditions under control before pregnancy

January 20, 2021

Most pregnant people who have chronic health conditions have healthy pregnancies and babies. However, if you can manage your condition well, your baby’s risk of developing a birth defect and your risk of complications during your pregnancy will be lower.

A chronic health condition is one that lasts for 1 year or more that needs ongoing medical care and can limit your activities and affect your daily life. Examples include asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and depression.

Can my chronic condition affect my baby?

Having a chronic health condition increases the risk for certain pregnancy complications, including:

  • Infertility. This means you have trouble getting pregnant.
  • Preterm birth. This is birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies that are born prematurely are more likely to have health problems than babies that are born on time.
  • Birth defects. These are health conditions that are present at birth that change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. Birth defects can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops or how the body works.
  • Pregnancy loss, such as miscarriage and stillbirth. Miscarriage is the death of a baby in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Stillbirth is the death of a baby in the womb.

Sadly, the most common causes of death for pregnant people in the United States are related to pre-existing, chronic conditions.

Getting chronic conditions under control

Getting a chronic condition under control before pregnancy can help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. And, adults with medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart conditions, immune issues, sickle cell disease and diabetes have a higher risk of getting sick from the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) so it’s more important than ever to manage your condition.

You may need to make some changes to bring your condition under control before you try to get pregnant. Here are some tips:

  • Get a preconception checkup before you start trying to make sure your body is ready for pregnancy.
  • Talk with your providers about when to get pregnant. It’s best to not get pregnant when your condition is not well managed, when you’ve started a new treatment or when you’re taking certain medicines. 
  • Work with your providers to get your condition under control. For example, if you have pre-existing diabetes, work to get it under control 3 to 6 months before pregnancy.
  • Talk with your providers about all of the medicines you take, including prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, supplements and herbal products. Some of these products may be harmful to your baby. However, don’t stop taking prescription medications until you’ve talked with your provider.
  • Make lifestyle changes, like eating more healthfully or exercising more, if needed.
  • Call your healthcare provider if you think you have COVID-19. Based on what we know at this time, pregnant people are at increased risk for getting sicker from COVID-19 compared with people who aren’t pregnant.
  • Do not delay getting emergency care for your underlying medical condition because of COVID-19. Emergency rooms have taken steps to protect patients from getting COVID-19 when they need care. If you need emergency help, call 911 right away.

People who have chronic health conditions can have a healthy pregnancy. Talk with your provider about getting your condition under control.

Who has chronic health conditions?

More and more people of childbearing age in the United States have chronic health conditions. And, chronic health conditions affect more people in Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Natives communities than people in non-Hispanic white communities.  The reasons for this disparity (difference) have to do with racism and the social, economic and environmental challenges people in communities of color face.

People who live in communities of color may have challenges that can affect their health, such as:

  • Less access to healthy foods 
  • Unsafe living conditions and/or polluted environments
  • Problems getting good medical and preventive care
  • Chronic stress

March of Dimes recognizes that racism and its effects are factors in the health disparities in pregnancy outcomes and babies’ health. We must work together to bring fair, just and full access to health care for all moms and babies.