Health Check: Importance of preconception health

Andrea Hutnak of Cranston tried for years to get pregnant.

"I had tried in vitro four times and it was just not going to work," Hutnak said.

About five years ago, Hutnak went to Lifespan's Women's Medicine Collaborative, where she had a team of doctors.

One of them was Dr. Silvia Degli Esposti, a gastroenterologist. Hutnak had been dealing with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, since she was 17. She was on heavy-duty medications for it, medicines she cut back on taking hoping to increase her chances of getting pregnant.

"What I had to convince her to do is take the medications that made her healthy in order to be able to get pregnant and be able to sustain a healthy pregnancy," Degli Esposti said

"I remember Dr. Degli Esposti saying that it's so much worse to have active uncontrolled or poorly control chronic illness than it is to take the heavy medicines that I was on the offensive not wanting to take," Hutnak said. "Getting healthy was the key."

Hutnak became pregnant in 2008 and nine months later, on May 21, 2009, gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Carina, who's now 4.

"She's my sunshine," Hutnak said.

And Hutnak says she feels great. Her disease is under control.

Planning ahead made all the difference for her. And that's the message to others with or without a chronic illness: plan ahead.

"We know the most important fact that predicts healthy pregnancy is to be healthy at the time of conception," Degli Esposti said.

And that's why the collaborative has a program it calls MOMS, which stands for multidisciplinary obstetric medicine service.

It's for patients like Hutnak. Doctors collaborate to help ensure a healthy pregnancy.