So you have decided to take the plunge and become a parent. Most of you are probably concerned about healthy habits to adopt once you are pregnant. However, you should actually start thinking about what to do before even trying to before getting pregnant. Why? It’s as simple as this: your health before getting pregnant can impact your future baby’s health, especially when it comes to allergies, eczema, and gut problems.
Experts are agreeing that in order to give yourself the best chance of a smooth pregnancy and a healthy baby, it is best to get your body in tip-top shape before trying to conceive.
Here are 7 things to consider.
1. Bid adieu to the birth control pill and any hormonal contraception
While it is reassuring to learn that there is no credible evidence that using hormonal contraception for a long time will interfere with your fertility, some women do note that it takes their menstrual cycle several months to normalize after stopping the use of the Pill. If you come off your hormonal contraception prior to wanting to conceive, you will allow your body’s natural hormones to rebalance and it will be easier to tell if you’re ovulating.
2. Start taking a prenatal right away, but read its ingredients first
A prenatal multivitamin is especially important to ensure that your folate levels are adequate to prevent neural tube defects. Taking one before conception will help establish healthy nutrient stores. Be aware that not every prenatal is equivalent—some contain a lot of added ingredients like corn, coloring, and flavoring (yuck!). In addition, most of them contain folic acid, not folate (yes, although the two are used interchangeably, they are in fact different). This can be a problem because folic acid must be metabolized before being used, but not everyone can readily convert it into its active form.
Taking a supplement with the activated form (folate) will ensure your levels are healthy for conception and pregnancy.
3. Reach a healthy weight
Not only will attaining a healthy weight help improve your chances of conceiving, but it will also decrease your risk of certain health problems during pregnancy. In fact, excess weight increases your chances of developing high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy.
4. Stop smoking and cut down on alcohol and coffee
I know—way to put a damper on your fun! This is at the very top of the most list of things to do preconception. Approximately 20% of low-birth-weight, 8% of preterm deliveries, and 5% of all delivery deaths are linked to smoking during pregnancy.
Smoking can also make it harder for women to before getting pregnant, due to decreasing estrogen levels. When it comes to alcohol, there is no expert consensus on what is safe during pregnancy, so it’s smarter to simply abstain. Coffee is still ok to enjoy during pregnancy but should be limited to 300mg of caffeine a day as it increases your risk of miscarriage. Therefore, sticking to 1-2 cups of coffee a day is better, and isn’t expected to be a concern.
5. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins
BPA and phthalates are two big offenders that can alter your natural hormonal balance and should be avoided when possible. Mercury is another big one and is often found in fish and seafood. Stick to low-mercury fish such as salmon, sardines, mussels, rainbow trout, and mackerel prior to conception and during pregnancy.
6. Go organic!
This kind of goes hand in hand with the above suggestion to decrease your exposure to environmental toxins. Studies are showing that organic produce, in fact, does contain fewer pesticides and more nutrients. They can also offer added health benefits such as decreasing eczema. Studies have shown that pesticides are linked to lower IQ scores in kids. My suggestion would be to focus on going organic when it comes to producing from the “dirty dozen.”
7. Get a full workup
This one is probably obvious but often missed. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that all women see their doctor for a pre-conception exam. Mostly, this exam checks for things that could negatively impact both you and the baby during pregnancy such sexually transmitted diseases, low iron, thyroid conditions, and even genetic problems in certain instances.
While you shouldn’t throw caution to the wind, do not panic if you have conceived before doing any of the above, as it should serve only a guide. There are lots of other suggestions and ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy; like eating a balanced, whole-foods diet for example.