Whether you’re actively trying to conceive or just hoping to have a baby in a year or two, it isn’t too early to start thinking about how to prepare your body. Taking the proper steps today can make conception easier, help your baby’s healthy development during pregnancy, and make pregnancy and labor easier on you.
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Best of all, the preparations you can make are also good for your overall health, so even if you’re planning to wait a bit before having kids, you can know that you’re a healthier woman today – and that you’ll be a healthier mom with a healthier baby later.
1. Get A Physical Examination
There are plenty of chronic underlying conditions that can make conception and pregnancy difficult. Endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, hypothyroid, and a variety of autoimmune disorders can compromise your fertility and increase your risk of miscarriage.
This is particularly true if you’re taking birth control pills because of some kind of unspecified cycle issue; the Pill can help with the symptom of irregular cycles or heavy bleeding, but it doesn’t necessarily address underlying causes like pelvic inflammatory disease. Symptoms of conditions like endometriosis can return as soon as you stop taking the Pill.
2. Chart Your Cycle
Knowing the ins and outs of your cycle can make conception a heck of a lot easier, and is another way that you can address underlying physiological issues.
An egg lives only 12-24 hours after ovulation, so if you don’t have any sperm in your reproductive system during that window, either because you made love to your partner just after ovulation, or because you did it a day or two before and still had live sperm in your body, you’ll have to wait until your next cycle to try to conceive again. If you track your cycles now, you’re far more likely to know the best time to try to have a baby.
As an added bonus, certain fertility tracking methods can actually clue you into underlying issues with your reproductive health. For instance, if you track your fertility by checking your temperature every day or examining your cervical mucus, you can get an idea of whether the window between ovulation and the start of your menstrual period is too short for implantation or whether you have too little cervical mucus to guide your partner’s sperm to your ovary.
3. Take Your Vitamins
If you want a healthy baby, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough folic acid before you even conceive. Taking 400 micrograms of folate daily has been linked to reduced risks of brain and spinal cord defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
Folic acid also reduces the risk of low birth weight, miscarriage, and premature birth, and can help protect you from heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. You can get folic acid through supplementation as well as from citrus fruits and from dark green vegetables such as spinach or kale.
4. Watch Your Weight
It may seem silly to eye the scale when you’re about to put on a good 30 pounds of baby weight, but it isn’t. If you’re obese during your pregnancy – not counting a healthy baby weight gain of about 11-40 pounds, depending on your weight before conceiving – you increase your risk of a host of pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and unplanned C-section.
What’s more, a mother’s obesity increases the risk of birth defects and miscarriage and makes it more likely that your baby will be obese later in life. Being overweight or underweight can negatively impact your fertility as well, so it’s best to aim for that healthy BMI before you get pregnant.
5. Start Exercising
Exercising and watching your weight go hand-in-hand. Once you become pregnant, exercise will help you to reduce unpleasant symptoms like bloating, constipation, hemorrhoids, swelling, and backaches. Exercise will also boost your energy and mood and help you sleep better.
What’s more, because exercise improves your strength and stamina, mothers who exercise tend to have shorter labors with fewer medical interventions than sedentary mothers. Be careful not to overdo it, however; while moderate exercise has a beneficial effect on fertility, exercising too vigorously can actually reduce your chances of conceiving.
6. Skip The Trans Fats
Another reason to watch your waistline if you’re hoping to conceive: according to a 2007 study, trans fats have a devastating effect on your fertility. Just getting 2% of your calories from a source high in trans fats can cut your fertility almost in half, and the effects get worse with every 2% you add.
7. Eat Mediterranean . . .
If trans fats are fertility killers, the Mediterranean diet is a fertility superstar. In a 2010 study, women who stuck to the Mediterranean diet – vegetables, fish, vegetable oils, and nuts – had more luck conceiving than their peers. The women in the control group were eating a relatively healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with minimal snacks and meat.
The Mediterranean diet doesn’t just give you better fertility than you’d have if you were eating fast food every day; it gives you better fertility than you have when you’re being health-conscious, too.
8. . . But Watch The Fish
Fish is a crucial component of the Mediterranean diet, but if you’re planning to become pregnant, you need to be careful about what kinds of fish you eat. Certain kinds of fish can contain high levels of mercury due to water pollution. The worst offenders are top predators, which accumulate mercury from the other fish they eat in their bloodstreams.
Pregnant women and women who intend to become pregnant should avoid eating shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish. Additionally, you should limit tuna to six ounces per week.
That said, you actually should eat two or three servings of low-mercury fish per week if you intend to become pregnant and if you conceive. Those omega-3 fatty acids that are so good for your own brain health are also spectacular for the development of your baby’s brain, and they also give you a low-fat but high-vitamin protein source. Low-mercury, high-omega-3 fish include salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, trout, and mackerel.
9 Check Your Cosmetics
Most women know better than to smoke or binge drink before getting pregnant, but what about the toxins that lurk in your beauty regimen? Check the ingredient list on your hairspray and nail polish for phthalates, a group of chemicals that may be harmful to boys in utero.
Most of the harm from phthalates seems to come when they’re inhaled, so if you have trouble finding a phthalate-free hairspray, mousse or gel should be safer.
Stress has been shown to affect fertility; some doctors suspect that reducing stress can help with implantation, while other studies show that egg production itself is actually less efficient when the mother is stressed.
The problems don’t go away once you’ve conceived, either; chronic stress can raise blood pressure and increase the chances of preterm birth. Amid all your pregnancy preparations, remember to take care of yourself.