Deciding to have a baby is not taken lightly and usually comes with much anticipation but also some apprehension. These mixed feelings are common. What you do need to know is that the first few weeks of your pregnancy are vital to the healthy development of the baby. You need to be as healthy as possible and avoid any harmful activities or substances near your time of conception.
We all have our indulgences, but when you plan to fall pregnant, it’s time to think about the health of your baby because what happens to your body affects your baby. It’s not just drugs, alcohol or smoking that you should avoid – habits like over-exercising and be eating junk food can interfere with falling pregnant and potentially affect your baby.
Some health issues are hard to address, and habits take a while to break. Remember that every single aspect of your health – from the food you eat and what you drink to the exercise you do can have an impact on your fertility and pregnancy. If you start to make changes before a baby is on board, it will start you off on the right foot. Be proactive about your health and your baby, and you will both benefit. Here are some tips to help you on your way to a healthier you.
Have a general health checkup
It’s a good idea to have a public health checkup before you fall pregnant. It’s a time to sit down with your physician or gynecologist and go over key issues to enjoy a healthy start to your pregnancy. You can make sure your body is in good shape and tackle any general health issues. Your physician will want to go over your medical history and that of your partner. Your blood pressure, weight, and height will be recorded. You may want to discuss how and when to stop birth control and when you should start trying.
Specific blood tests will be done, and the physician will want to know about any previous health complications, including any gynecological issues such as fibroid or miscarriages, abortions or other last high-risk pregnancies. The physician will also want to know about any habits you may need to kick and will probably suggest dietary changes if you are overweight or underweight. If the checkup uncovers a health condition that needs to be monitored during your pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, getting it under control will help make your pregnancy a healthier one.
Have fertility tests
It can be heartbreaking if you’ve been trying for a long time and you can’t seem to fall pregnant. If this is the case, there are steps you can take. Sometimes the cause of infertility is easy to diagnose, and it can be treated. You should not go straight to an infertility clinic but see your regular gynecologist first. You will need to provide information about your menstrual cycle, any risk factors, medications you are taking, symptoms (even the embarrassing ones like low libido or unwanted hair growth.
For women, infertility testing may include a necessary gynecological exam, blood work, a vaginal ultrasound, a test to see if the fallopian tubes are open or diagnostic laparoscopy. You may also be tested for certain sexually transmitted infections or diseases as these can affect fertility. Semen analysis is the most important test for men. Once your tests are complete, you will discuss what the results mean, whether further testing is necessary and what treatment is most appropriate. This is a sensitive issue, and you should feel free to ask any questions before and after testing. It is only when basic fertility treatment, such as taking fertility medication, is unsuccessful that you will be referred to a fertility clinic.
Recent studies have shown that nutrients a woman needs before falling pregnant are different than those need during pregnancy. For instance, iron requirements increase during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, but while you are trying to conceive, taking extra iron can be counterproductive and cause constipation or stomach upsets. Many women are not aware that they are pregnant in those very early stages. The baby’s skull and spine may already have closed, and a lack of folic acid in the diet can lead to neural tube defects. This is why it’s recommended that all women of childbearing age take about 400 micro-grams of folic acid a day.
Zinc helps with ovulation and fertility in women and semen and testosterone production in men. A zinc deficiency can impair sperm production. Men should have a daily intake of 11mg of zinc and women need 8mg. It appears from studies that a Co-enzyme Q10 supplement could help with infertility. Studies also show that women suffered from less morning sickness if they took 10mg of vitamin B6 before conception. Many specially designed preconception vitamin and mineral supplements support the nutritional needs of women who are trying to fall pregnant. They usually contain a combination of folate, vitamins A, and D, iron, B6, and B12.
Discuss your medications
Are you taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications? Are you using any natural remedies? Your physician needs to know about everything you are taking, even pills you only take occasionally. Some medicines might be safe to take while trying to conceive and others may be safe in low dosages. Some might not be safe to take at all as they may cause developmental problems, congenital disabilities, premature birth and even infant death.
The FDA categorizes prescription drugs and category C drugs have shown to have adverse effects in animal studies. Category D drugs have shown evidence of potential risks to the fetus, and category X drugs have shown evidence of fetal dangers or abnormalities. If you’re taking category D or X drugs, you will have to stop taking them before trying to fall pregnant. Review all your current medications, herbs and supplements with your physician to determine what you can safely continue to receive. If what you are taking has risks, safe alternatives will be suggested. No medicine is complete, but your physician will help you to devise a treatment plan that’s as safe as possible for you and the baby. This is necessary for those who have conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, depression or high blood pressure where the untreated condition may be more dangerous than the medication taken to control them.
Use natural remedies
It’s a good idea to look at some natural solutions for minor health problems, such as colds, that you can safely use during preconception and pregnancy. For instance, it can be soothing to drink chamomile tea before going to bed at night. Other teas safe to drink are spearmint, red raspberry, lemon balm and rose hips. Green tea should be limited during preconception because it decreases the effectiveness of folic acid which is vital to the healthy development of the fetus.
Check with a practitioner who knows about herbs if you want to use them when you’re trying to conceive. You can get a list of herbs that you can use and ones you should avoid. Just because a remedy is natural does not mean that it’s safe for use in pregnancy. Many herbs can cause miscarriage, premature birth, injure the fetus or harm the health of the mother. Even when using those that are safe, you should always begin with a small quantity and gradually increase dosage if necessary. Like any medicine, herbs must be used with caution, but some of them can offer safe, gentle solutions to minor complaints before conception and during pregnancy.
Control your weight
If you are over or underweight, your menstrual cycle is probably irregular, and that means you may battle to fall pregnant. Both being overweight or underweight poses risks to you and your baby during pregnancy. Excess weight during pregnancy is associated with many complications, such as preeclampsia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, birth defects, caesarian sections and preterm birth. Having too much body fat also makes it difficult to monitor the fetus with ultrasound and hear the heartbeat. Being underweight poses risks such as having a preterm birth or a baby with a low weight at birth and health and behavioral problems.
At your optimal weight, you have a much better chance of a successful pregnancy. Studies show that if you’re overweight and battling to fall pregnant, losing as little as five percent of body weight may increase your chances. If you want to lose weight, you need to use up more calories than you take in. All you may need to do is make a few changes to your diet and become more physically active. The first step is to reduce your calorie intake, and the next step is to do some exercise to help burn calories. If you are underweight, your physician should be able to suggest some dietary changes, including eating healthy, calorie-dense snacks to help you gain weight.
Get regular exercise
Two facts about exercise and fertility are well known – intense physical activity can disturb your menstrual cycle, and obesity is associated with decreased fertility. Weight loss in obese women can improve their chances of conceiving. It’s probably not a good idea to take up kickboxing or other such activities but swimming, walking, yoga, jogging, bicycling or Pilates are all excellent exercise options. You will have to modify your exercise routine during your pregnancy.
Regular exercise boosts your blood circulation, prevents excessive weight gain and keeps you fit and healthy. It’s best to start an exercise routine before trying to conceive than suddenly deciding you need to start exercising when you are already pregnant. Yoga is an excellent option because it incorporates techniques like deep breathing, concentration, posture, etc. which are all beneficial during labor. Remember that it’s never a good idea to overdo it. If you’re a competitive athlete, an avid runner, or do intense gym workouts every day, you will need to cut back on your exercise if you want to conceive. If you do not do any exercise, just a little exercise preconception will prepare your body for carrying a child for nine months.
Time sexual intercourse
Everyone seems to be able to come up with ideas of what positions are most likely to result in conception. In fact, any sex position will do for conception and timing rather than position is the crucial factor. It is advised to have intercourse in the five days that lead up to ovulation and the day you ovulate. If you have some idea of your body’s cycle by looking at temperature patterns, cervical mucus, as well as physical and mental symptoms, you can identify when you are fertile each month and know when to go for it!
Sticking to an ovulation calendar, urinating on a test strip and more can make lovemaking begin to start feeling like a chore when you’re trying to fall pregnant. Try not to let your desire to fall pregnant take away all the fun and spontaneity of sex. Ratchet up the romance factor, switch locations, remain emotionally connected, relax, enjoy and allow the process to unfold. Cuddling after sex may help you to fall pregnant – it gives the sperm time to reach the cervix. Sex is also a great workout that burns fat and increases muscle flexibility, both of which will help with preconception health. Remember to steer clear of lubricants which can damage sperm.
Eat a healthy diet
Treat your food as fuel and try to opt for healthier alternatives. Trade in those French fries for some kale chips (tear pieces of kale, sprinkle them with olive oil and kosher salt and roast). Reach for some almonds or an apple instead of a doughnut. Green leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach are excellent sources of folate, the key B vitamin that can help to prevent neural tube defects in those early stages of fetal development. Using these green veggies in a smoothie is one easy way to include them in your diet.
Milk is high in calcium which is necessary for the healthy development of the skeleton. It takes a while to raise those calcium levels in the body so start drinking that milk. If you are lactose intolerant or don’t enjoy drinking milk, there are many non-dairy foods rich in calcium too such as tofu, kale, broccoli, and legumes. Yogurt contains probiotics, the good bacteria that boost your immune system and keeps you healthy while trying to conceive. One study found that women who were low in vitamin C had an increased risk of pre-term delivery. Grab some berries and throw them into your yogurt for added vitamin C.
Limit your caffeine intake
It’s best to limit caffeine intake to two servings a day. Some studies have shown a link between delayed conception and high levels of caffeine consumption. Studies have also shown a possible increase in miscarriages in women who consume more than 200mg of coffee a day versus those who don’t consume any. Too much caffeine interferes with your ability to absorb iron which is vital for the development of the baby. If you can start reducing your caffeine intake before conception, you will avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms once you’re pregnant.
The evidence is a little mixed as to how much caffeine is safe. It’s mostly suggested that the equivalent of a small cup of coffee a day – about 100mg – is best. Some physicians recommend foregoing caffeine entirely –, especially in the first trimester. You may not realize how much caffeine you are consuming – don’t forget to count other sneaky sources of caffeine such as sodas, teas, energy drinks and even some pain medications. A can of soda may contain anything from 30 to 60mg of caffeine. You may have to start reading some labels to see how much caffeine you are consuming.
Get enough sleep
Inadequate sleep and stress can affect your ability to conceive. One study suggests that being diagnosed with a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or insomnia can raise the risk of premature birth. Research from the University of Washington found that pregnant women getting less than six hours of sleep in early pregnancy were more likely to develop high blood pressure. Women who slept less than five hours a night had a higher risk of developing preeclampsia. When you’re trying to conceive, you need your eight hours of sleep a night.
You can start by taking a good look at your sleep habits. It’s best to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up the same time every morning. Consider taking a warm bath before bed. Make your room as dark as possible and turn off all electronic devices such as cell phones and radios. Try some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation. Don’t eat too close to bedtime and try to avoid fried, spicy or acidic foods that may cause heartburn. If you have tried all this and you’re still battling, talk to your physician about what to do next. He may suggest a sleep aid that’s safe to take.
If you smoke, you should try to give up before trying to conceive. A vice like smoking decreases your chances of a successful pregnancy. Infertility affects many women, and smoking may cause up to 13% of this. Smoking can also delay conception. Studies show that women who smoke have an up to 54% higher chance that conception with taking a year or longer compared with non-smokers. The more cigarettes smoked, the more chemicals enter the body, reducing estrogen levels and increasing follicular depletion. Smoking and pregnancy don’t mix. Smoke exposure also contributes to higher rates of miscarriage and increased miscarriages and birth defects.
There is often no easy answer to quitting smoking, but it is indeed better to start trying before conception than when you are already pregnant. Ask your physician about any local smoking cessation programs and what type of aids you could use to quit. If you want to try and go cold turkey, you should avoid being with people who might tempt you to smoke, try to keep your hands occupied and had a friend on standby who you can call to encourage you when you feel like taking a puff.
Abstain from alcohol
Alcohol goes into your baby’s bloodstream in the same concentration as it goes into yours, but it takes twice as long to leave it. You probably know you will have to avoid alcohol while you’re pregnant but recent research suggests that it’s beneficial to avoid alcohol even when you’re trying to fall pregnant. Why? The very beginning stages of pregnancy are some of the most crucial in the fetal development, and you may not even be aware you’re pregnant. Your baby’s nervous system is forming also before you miss your first period.
Alcohol is the leading known preventable cause of mental and physical birth defects. While in some European countries it’s believed that drinking the odd glass of wine during pregnancy is perfectly okay, avoiding alcohol altogether while you’re trying to conceive and during your pregnancy is the safe way to go. There is not enough research to establish exactly how much drinking impacts your baby’s health, so it’s best to abstain completely. While others are drinking, you can enjoy sipping a spritzer instead of an alcoholic drink. Try pomegranate juice, lime, and seltzer as a tasty alternative. There are many other mocktail recipes you can try that are alcohol-free but still yummy, like citrus, sangria-inspired punch or a cranberry apple spritzer.
It’s apparent that you should avoid substance abuse when you’re trying to conceive. Marijuana use is increasing in pregnancy as public approval of its use grows, but unfortunately, we do not yet have enough information about its effect on the fetus. All drugs pass through the placenta to reach the fetus and may affect the growth of the placenta and the baby. It is known that if you regularly abuse drugs such as crystal meth, heroin or cocaine, your baby is likely to be born with withdrawal symptoms. Cocaine use increases the risk of preterm birth, lower birth weight, smaller head circumference and behavioral problems. Prolonged cocaine use results in decreased libido and erectile dysfunction.
If you are taking drugs and you want to have a child, acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step. Both women and their partners using illicit drugs must stop if the woman wants to conceive. Referral to a local drug treatment service is likely to be necessary as few people, can quit on their own. Addiction is never easy to overcome. The triggers for the drug use need to be determined, and a plan needs to be put into action to help you to quit and build up a support team.
Evaluate your environment
Some substances in your home or your workplace may make it harder for you to fall pregnant or could harm your baby when you fall pregnant. For instance, studies have shown that excessive exposure to chemicals, like those found in some plastics, cans and personal care products, could hurt fertility. Buy BPA free containers, utensils and water bottles if you haven’t done so already.
Take a good look at your home and work environment. Think about the chemicals you use in your home or garden. Find out whether toxic substances are being used in your workplaces such as pesticides or solvents. The highest risk for exposure to pesticides is in the first three to eight weeks of the first trimester which is often before you even know you are pregnant. One way to minimize your risk of exposure is to seek out alternatives for possible pollutants. You may want to start drinking purified water, eating organic food and swapping chemicals for natural household and personal care products.
Protect sperm health
We often think it’s all about the woman when it comes to conception but men have just as important a part to play. They need to pay attention to the health of their sperm – quantity, quality, and motility are all important. Sperm likes to be a little colder than the rest of the body. In practice, this may mean staying away from hot tubs and saunas. Even a laptop on the lap is not a good idea. Men should not wear tight trousers, biking shorts or underpants made out of synthetic materials as this traps in body heat and heat affects the motility of the sperm.
Exercise, such as cardio and strength conditioning, can improve sperm motility. Mountain biking, on the other hand, may have the opposite effect. Smoking, alcohol and marijuana use can affect the quality, quantity, and mobility of sperm. Even drinking too much coffee can have an impact. Eating healthy foods, especially deep colored ones that are high in antioxidants can improve the quantity and quality of sperm. Being overweight is another factor that may decrease sperm production. Make an effort to lose a few pounds and your sperm will be happier for it.
Frustration and stress have a negative impact when you’re trying to conceive. Stress is linked to delayed or missed periods, and you will find it difficult to track your ovulation. Too much stress during preconception can impair the ability to produce and balance hormones which is essential for reproductive health. This includes estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone. Stress can also affect the outcome of infertility treatment.
Try to limit your amount of stress as much as possible. You might find it helpful to do yoga or learn some relaxation techniques. You can also nourish your nervous system and your adrenal glands with specific nutrients to restore hormonal balance. Some simple lifestyle and mindset changes will help you to prepare mentally and physically for conception. A little exercise can go a long way towards reducing stress because your body benefits from the release of those feel-good endorphins. You can even do some simple things such as getting a massage or going for a walk every day. Small lifestyle changes can improve stress levels.
Check your lubricant
Your choice of lubricant may be preventing you from conceiving. Standard lubricants from your local pharmacy may make it harder for sperm to make their way into the cervical canal. Make sure you pick a lubricant that’s sperm-friendly and helps with sperm viability and motility. When you’re looking at labels, you will notice they mention pH balance and osmolality. What this means is that when you’re trying to conceive, your pH levels need to be balanced and some lubricants disturb your pH balance while others support it. Sperm needs a healthy pH balance to survive. If they’re released into an environment that’s too acidic, they are destroyed.
You can find brands that are organic and don’t contain glycerin which can damage sperm. There are those with adjusted pH levels, so your fluids mix and they have a consistency similar to your body’s cervical mucus. Pre-seed Fertility Friendly lubricant, for example, is invented by a woman sperm physiologist. It mimics fertile cervical mucus in its pH and consistency. The sperm can swim freely and make their way to the eggs. Some lubricants are not only compatible with sperm but contain magnesium and calcium ions which can help you to get pregnant.
Many vaccine-preventable diseases can have severe consequences for both mother and fetus, which makes the immunization status of women wanting to conceive an important factor. Several vaccinations need to be done at least a few months before pregnancy. This is why it’s important to review your immunizations with your physician so you can make sure they are up to date. When was your last tetanus shot? A booster is needed every ten years. Have you received booster pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine? Immunity wears off, and this is something you don’t want to pass on to your fetus. Blood tests can check for chicken pox and rubella. We’re often vaccinated as children against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), but immunity can fade over time. These are dangerous diseases to get while you’re pregnant.
Women who are not immune at a preconception visit should be vaccinated. The vaccine causes your body to produce protective antibodies and some of these pass on to your baby before birth. Those who receive the vaccine should avoid pregnancy for about three months. Other vaccines, like flu shots, can be given before or during pregnancy, depending on whether or not it is flu season.
Include your partner
Include your partner right from the start. The preconception period can be an anxious time – you’re worried about your ability to conceive, what type of parent you will be and the impact of children on your relationship. Discussing these fears with each other can help to overcome any anxieties and make issues easier to deal with as they arise. Many physical and emotional changes come with pregnancy, and constant communication is important to keep your relationship healthy.
Your mental and emotional health is closely linked to your physical health. If your partner is intimately involved from the start, you will feel more emotionally secure. When men think about preconception health, they usually think it applies to the women, but many of these preconception health tips apply to men as well as women. Taking your partner along with you to that first general visit is an opportunity for both of you to be on the same page and work together towards conceiving a child and creating the best possible circumstances for its birth.