We don’t always have the luxury of being able to plan for a baby, but if you’re even remotely considering becoming pregnant, these pre-pregnancy tips will set you up for success and bring a healthy, happy life into this world.
Prenatal care starts now
You need to start thinking about your overall health as early as possible when trying to conceive (yes, even before contraceptives and other birth control methods stop).
If you’re thinking of conceiving, the health of your eggs and sperm can be greatly impacted before they are even released.
It takes about 90 days for an egg to mature and be selected for ovulation. For men, it takes about 80 days for sperm to mature. During these few months, a woman’s follicles and a man’s sperm are very susceptible to DNA damage from exposure to pollutants, inflammation, nutrient deficiencies and more.
So start now to improve the health of your eggs and sperm to improve the odds of a healthy egg and fertilisation.
Make a preconception doctor’s checkup
Share your plans with your doctor if you’re thinking of starting a family in the next six to 12 months. They will take into consideration your family history and existing health problems or medical conditions, and offer you advice accordingly.
Many will also suggest you get up-to-date with your vaccinations, especially against rubella and chickenpox, which can have serious health implications for pregnant women and their unborn baby.
They will also take a blood test to determine your health condition and if you have any deficiencies.
Numerous nutrients and vitamins are essential for reproductive health, including B vitamins, vitamin D, and most importantly folic acid. Folic acid or folate is needed to help prevent spina bifida, a birth defect that has a serious impact on the baby’s brain and spine.
The standard dose for folic acid is 600–800 micrograms (0.6 – 0.8 milligrams) per day through the first three months of pregnancy. Speak with your health care provider when choosing a supplement.
There are different types of folic acid available over the counter. 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) is a type of folic acid that may offer some advantage over regular folic acid. It is better absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and interacts with fewer medications than regular folic acid. 5-MTHF may also reduce the risk of masking the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin D is also very important to assess. Vitamin D acts as a modulator of sex hormones. Having optimal blood levels of vitamin D can lead to better odds of embryo implantation and clinical pregnancy. This is especially important in those with endometriosis, as well as women who have experienced recurring pregnancy loss. A simple blood test can assess your vitamin D levels.
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
A healthy diet and prenatal vitamins can play a significant role in your overall health. The focus should be on a balanced diet which includes a small amount of protein and lots of veggies at every single meal, and one or two servings of fruit per day.
Whole, complex carbohydrates are also important for hormone regulation and digestion. Fast food, packaged snacks, refined sugars and sweeteners such as corn syrup should be avoided.
The goal here is to protect your reproductive cells, while providing the building blocks the body needs to run properly and efficiently. Remember that you are trying to build a whole person from scratch—you want the building materials to be strong and of good quality.
Encourage proper development and growth by supporting anti-inflammatory pathways and ingesting antioxidants to protect your cells and prevent damage.
This is also the time to stop drinking alcohol, smoking and using drugs.
Aim to be as close to your healthy weight as possible, especially if your current body mass index (BMI) falls in the overweight, obese or underweight category.
Avoid exposure to environmental toxins
We are surrounded by potential toxicants (toxic substances) so avoiding all of them would be nearly impossible. Toxicants are found in hundreds of consumer products, including stain- and water-resistant furniture, outdoor gear, cosmetics, dental floss, food packaging and more.
The good news is, our bodies do have detoxification systems, and they do work well. Here are some tips to minimise and manage exposure to toxicants.
- Don’t microwave food in plastic containers.
- Reduce exposure to BPAs (which can also be found in the lining of canned food).
- Avoid strong fragrances or parfum (beauty and body care), pet medications, animal waste or excrement, car exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, pesticides and many household cleaning products.
- Ensure adequate nutrition and take vitamins and mineral supplements as prescribed. In order for our livers to work well, we need the proper nutrients to ensure detoxification pathways are working.
- Drink lots of water and ensure adequate fibre intake. Your body is supposed to filter and eliminate waste. Make sure you are using the toilet regularly and have no problems doing so.
Journey with your partner
Both men and women play major roles in a couple’s overall reproductive health. Sperm are just as vulnerable to DNA damage as women’s eggs are. Sperm health and sperm count, measured by morphology and motility, directly relates to a man’s overall health. The chances of a sperm making it to an egg or even fertilising it decreases if it has abnormal head or tail shapes.
Planning for a healthy pregnancy needs to include both partners. The health of a mother who nurtures a foetus is essential, but so is the health of the partner whose DNA will also be incorporated into making an embryo. Healthy sperm also require proper nutrients, antioxidants and lots of veggies too.
Going through these healthy changes together is a superb way to bond and feel great about your health. Make it a point to go for walks together with your partner, cook meals together, have Netflix nights, and support each other mentally and emotionally through this exciting time.
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Dr Tal Friedman
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