The motherly instinct we get as women kicks in long before baby gets here. As mothers, or future mothers, we need to plan ahead in creating the most fertile and healthiest environment in our bodies for the baby and ourselves. The road to a positive pregnancy test can be daunting so taking action months prior to conception can get your body at its peak level to support conception and a growing baby.
So, what are the first steps you should take after making the decision to expand your family?
1. Schedule an appt with your OB/GYN.
Scheduling a pre-pregnancy appointment where your physician can review your family history, health issues, past pregnancies, what to expect and a plan moving forward. And it is always a must to consult your physician before making any changes to your health regimen.
2. Check your lifestyle and manage your stress.
Now is a good time to engage in stress management tools such as yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, eating healthy, exercise or whatever you consider healthy self-care to be. Evidence states that everyday stressor can impact fertility but most experts believe that this isn’t due directly to the stress but the stress from the unhealthy habits that people turn to in response to the stress like smoking, drinking, overeating, undereating, neglecting to exercise, etc.
Using the Holmes-Rahe stress scale can help you calculate your own stress levels based on huge life events and everyday stressors. If you are under a serious amount of stress, talk openly to your physician about it so they can work closely with you to help manage it.
3. Evaluate your health and diet.
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), you should focus before and during pregnancy, on consuming a healthy, balanced, vitamin rich diet. Being underweight or overweight, going into a pregnancy, can have adverse effects on you and the baby’s health.
Risks to being underweight:
- Fertility issues
- Increased risk of miscarriage
- Low birth weight baby
- Preterm labor
- Labor issues
- Health and behavior issues well into childhood and even adulthood
Risks to being overweight:
- Fertility issues
- Increased risk of miscarriage
- High blood pressure
- Preterm birth
- Gestational Diabetes
- Macrosomia- Larger than normal baby
- Increased risk of birth injury and cesarean birth
- Increased risk of Neural Tube Defects
- Increased body fat can make it difficult for your health care provider accurately monitor the baby.
These are definitely good reasons to start evaluating your health and start thinking about what you are consuming. It is also important to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. It can be tough to get in all of the vitamins and minerals we need from food alone so the ACOG also suggests taking a prenatal vitamin even before becoming pregnant.
List of important vitamin and minerals to enable a healthy pre-pregnancy body (ALWAYS consult your provider before taking any supplements):
- Zinc– Important for Men and Women prior to getting pregnant
- 25-50 mg per day for fertility purposes
- For women
- Zinc helps the body utilize estrogen and progesterone in the body.
- Regulates menstrual cycles.
- Enables high quality, mature eggs ready to be fertilized.
- Zinc deficiency can cause miscarriage, imbalanced hormones, irregular periods, and ovarian issues.
- For men
- Helps develop high quality, mature sperm and a higher quantity, making it easier to fertilize the egg.
- Zinc deficiency can cause low sperm count, chromosomal defects (due to the low quality of the sperm that fertilized), which can lead to miscarriage.
- Foods that contain Zinc
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Whole grains
- Dairy that contains whole fat
- Folic Acid/Folate
- 400 micrograms daily at least one month before becoming pregnant
- 600 micrograms daily while pregnant
- Taking a supplement containing folic acid can help assure you consume enough.
- When taken before pregnancy and during pregnancy folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects. Just by taking the recommended dose of folic acid prior to conceiving, you can decrease the chances of an NTD in from 4.8 in 1000 babies to 1 in 1000 babies, according to the Center for Disease Control.
- 27mg daily for Pregnant women, half of that dose for a non-pregnant woman.
- Iron is used by your body to make a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your organs and tissues. During pregnancy, your body needs extra iron to make more blood to supply oxygen to the baby.
- Research shows only one in five fertile women starts her pregnancy with adequate iron levels.
- A study on how Iron affects infertility shows that women who consumed iron supplements had a significantly lower risk of ovulatory infertility than women who did not use iron supplements.
- Taking a prenatal vitamin supplies you with adequate Iron but you can also get Iron from certain foods including…
- Lean red meat
- Dried beans
- Iron fortified cereals
- Iron rich foods are also more easily absorbed if ate with Vitamin C rich foods like…
4. Ditch the Toxic Products.
- Scientific evidence accumulated over the last 15 years have shown that exposure to toxic chemicals before conception and during pregnancy can have significant and long-lasting effects on reproductive health, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
- This research, along with the Environmental Working Group’s research, has determined that reproductive health problems linked to toxic chemicals in cosmetics and other personal care products include…
- Low birth weight
- Preterm birth
- Birth defects
- These toxic chemicals are not regulated and continue to be used in common household products and beauty products.
- These toxic chemicals include but not limited to…
- Synthetic fragrance
- Phthalates- a family of toxic chemicals that have been linked to allergies and asthma, infertility, reduced testosterone concentrations, and abnormal development of reproductive system in baby boys.
- Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen
- Mercury- which can lead to kidney and nervous system damage
- Lead- a known neurotoxin
- Asbestos- a carcinogen
- Isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben and propylparaben- research shows parabens can be linked to breast cancer and disruption to the endocrine system.
- Toluene- toxic to the brain and nervous system
- Triclosan- affects the thyroid
- Do your own research and be your own advocate. Take action and replace your household cleaners and beauty products with more natural products. Research companies and take labels that claim they are “natural” or “organic” as face value because they are not regulated by the fda, so these companies are not required to show all ingredients or disclose what is really in the product.
- Download the Think Dirty App to help you find out where your favorite products rank on a toxicity scale!
5. Start Exercising if you don’t already.
- Exercise has so many health benefits so you can’t go wrong with starting a new exercise routine to incorporate in your Pre-Pregnancy health regimen that continues during pregnancy.
- Physical activity does not increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery, according to the ACOG.
- Regular exercise during pregnancy benefits you and your baby in many ways including…
- Reduces back pain
- Helps digestion
- May decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery
- Promotes healthy weight gain during pregnancy
- Improves your overall fitness and strengthens your heart and blood vessels
- Helps with endurance and strength to endure child birth
- Helps you to lose the baby weight after baby is born
- Exercise Guidelines for Pregnant Women- “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. An aerobic activity is one in which you move large muscles of the body (like those in the legs and arms) in a rhythmic way. Moderate intensity means you are moving enough to raise your heart rate and start sweating. You still can talk normally, but you cannot sing. If you are new to exercise, start out slowly and gradually increase your activity. Begin with as little as 5 minutes a day. Add 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day.
- If you were very active before pregnancy, you can keep doing the same workouts with your health care professional’s approval. However, if you start to lose weight, you may need to increase the number of calories that you eat.” https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy
- Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activity include brisk walking and general gardening (raking, weeding, or digging). You can divide the 150 minutes into 30-minute workouts on 5 days of the week or into smaller 10-minute workouts throughout each day.
6. Have fun!
Trying to conceive can be stressful and disappointing for so many, do your best to eliminate stress, become your best, balanced self and rely on your health care provider for any questions or concerns! Best wishes on your TTC Journey!