How to prepare for pregnancy seems like a no-brainer. Sperm meets egg, cells divide, baby grows…it doesn’t seem that complicated.
But your journey to motherhood starts long before you see that positive pregnancy test. Whether you’re trying to conceive on your own or with medical assistance, preparing for pregnancy is an important step to take to ensure a healthy baby and pregnancy.
Before you get serious about creating a new little human, there are some things you and your partner should think about. If you’ve already started the baby-making process, don’t worry – it’s never too late to make changes to improve your lifestyle and health.
The health of each parent is one of the key components of improving your chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy.
It takes about two to three months to form mature sperm and eggs take about 100 days to mature before ovulation. This means your current fertility status is the result of your lifestyle, diet, environment and health from three or so months in the past.
So you can see, it’s important to be as healthy as possible even before conceiving a baby. It’s a good idea for you and your partner to have a health check up to find out if there is anything that interferes with conception or a future pregnancy.
This check-up should take into consideration your diet and lifestyle, your medical and family medical history, any health conditions you have, medications you take, and any previous pregnancies.
Any long-term existing health conditions should have a management plan and be under control before you fall pregnant.
As you prepare for pregnancy, it’s also a good idea to book an appointment to see your dentist. Gum disease has been linked to pregnancy complications such as preterm labour, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. If you need any fillings or dental work done, it’s better to have it done before you’re pregnant.
Your naturopath and other practitioners can support you to improve your overall health and fertility, to prepare for a healthy pregnancy. Lou from Nurtured Birth explains that an initial consultation with a naturopath would usually involve gaining a comprehensive understanding of your current health condition, past health concerns and other factors which are important for optimal fertility.
Here are some lifestyle tips to look at:
Prepare for pregnancy with nutrition
As said earlier, your current fertility status is the result of the past few months diet and lifestyle. Having both you and your partner in peak nutritional health at the time of conception increases the chances of a healthy baby and pregnancy.
Your body needs a regular supply of nutrients for growth, energy and regeneration. These requirements increase during the beginning of pregnancy to the end, and then beyond in the time after birth as you recover and nourish your baby.
Prepare for pregnancy by boosting your daily nutrients through the food you eat. While the occasional treat is fine, your diet should be comprised of the highest quality foods possible. You can enjoy a balanced diet with protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. As much as possible, avoid processed foods that provide empty calories with no nutritional value, such as biscuits and cakes. Instead aim to eat mostly vibrant, fresh fruit and vegetables.
A good place to start is to see your naturopath for an assessment of your current nutritional status.
This consultation would also include an analysis of your current food intake, with suggestions made to improve your diet. Your naturopath can work with you to create an individualised plan to ensure you get all the nutrition you and your partner need for a healthy conception.
Your baby also needs plenty of nutritional support, from the moment of conception. Adequate levels of vitamins and minerals are vital, including iron, calcium, iodine, omega-3 and selenium. Folate is very important as it helps to prevent spina bifida in babies.
Choose a prenatal supplement carefully or with the help of your naturopath. You may have specific needs which can’t be addressed by a generic prenatal supplement.
Healthy weight before pregnancy
If you are under or over your ideal weight, it’s important to address this before pregnancy if possible.
Being underweight can create problems for women trying to conceive, as it creates hormone imbalances that interfere with ovulation. Women in the underweight range are likely to take more than a year to conceive compared to women in the healthy weight range.
Being overweight can affect sperm motility and count so your partner’s weight also matters.
Conceiving at a healthy weight means pregnancy complications are also less likely to occur, and your baby has a better chance of being healthy at birth and into their future.
This means you are also likely to have a more positive birth experience. Why? Because health conditions increase your risk for complications that need medical intervention.
Prepare for pregnancy with exercise
How your body functions before you conceive can impact how your body copes with the changes that pregnancy and birth brings.
Exercise offers more than just physical fitness. You are learning how to work with your body, releasing feel-good hormones like endorphins, and paving the way to an easier labour and recovery after birth.
Don’t believe us? Studies have found that women who exercise during pregnancy have shorter labours and are less likely to need pain relief.
If you already exercise, you should be able to maintain your current program through most of your pregnancy. Be guided by your body and ensure you don’t overheat or push harder than your abilities.
Yoga, swimming and walking are brilliant ways to increase your exercise if you don’t do any. Yoga has the added benefit of helping you with the mind-body connection, something we’re big on at Nurtured Birth. You can find out more about Nurtured Birth’s prenatal classes here.
Quit smoking, alcohol & social drugs
We’re not here to judge but smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs are the most problematic habits for overall health, fertility and pregnancy.
All of these substances can make it much more difficult to get pregnant and significantly increase the risk of miscarriage, birth defects and stillbirth.
Alcohol can harm a growing baby, causing birth defects, stillbirth and miscarriage. No one has been able to determine a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, so it’s wise to abstain altogether. Drinking alcohol can also bring down your partner’s sperm count, affecting his fertility as well.
The use of marijuana also decreases sperm density and motility and increases the number of abnormal sperm. Recreational and street drugs are dangerous for you and pose huge risks for your baby.
Women who smoke find they’re more likely to have problems getting pregnant and higher risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and low for weight babies. Smoking in men causes damage to the DNA in sperm, while also decreasing sperm count and motility.
Babies born to mothers who smoke are at risk of SIDs, as well as health problems in their future. Passive smoking is also a risk for pregnant women and babies, so now’s a good time for your partner to stop smoking.
Caffeine & caffeinated drinks/foods
Most adults drink caffeine in some form or another, whether it’s your morning cup of tea, the coffee you ‘need’ to get through the day, or soft drink, even chocolate! And yes, we think it’s important you watch your caffeine intake.
High intake of caffeine may interfere with your ability to conceive, increase the risk of miscarriage, and of having a baby with low birth weight.
It’s best to limit your intake of caffeine to 300mg a day or avoid it as much as possible. Swap to decaffeinated coffee, try herbal or rooibos teas, and avoid energy drinks which are high in both caffeine and sugar.
Prepare for pregnancy by chilling
You might not think your emotional and mental health is related to your fertility. After all, what your brain is doing shouldn’t affect sperm meeting egg, should it?
We all experience stress and emotional upheavals. Low levels of stress occasionally are normal, we adapt and move on. It’s when we’re going through persistent high levels of stress we start to see the effects, both physically and emotionally. This can also affect fertility, as your body produces stress hormones which impact reproduction, such as interrupting your cycle and decreasing sperm quality.
Not to mention making it less likely you have the time and inclination to actually have sex at the optimal fertile time, adding to the stress of trying to conceive. Managing stress can be easier said than actually done and often couples need solid support in place to help them ease back on the stresses in their lives. Counselling can be a powerful tool, alongside therapies such as massage, yoga and exercise.
Taking stock of your current mental health is important when preparing for pregnancy. It can help you to understand what areas of your life are overwhelmed and need support.
Pregnancy doesn’t just bring physical changes, you are transitioning into a family and this can have a profound impact on you and your relationship. Take the time to invest in communication with your partner to discover how you can support each other on this exciting journey.
At Nurtured Birth we are here to support you as you prepare for pregnancy. Find out more about us and our services here.
Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth