We often hear what pregnant women should and should not do to promote a healthy pregnancy and prevent problems during labor and after the child is born. However, one of the key periods in which to consider behavior is before conception.
Studies show that certain behaviors can have a positive or negative impact on a woman’s predisposition to get pregnant or have a healthy pregnancy. Additionally, some external influences can affect pregnancy, although more research is being conducted like the recently launched National Children’s Study to gain a better understanding about the effects of these factors. Consider the following practical tips to guide you in maintaining beneficial habits on your journey to motherhood. The tips also offer insight for avoiding dangerous external influences and getting ready to conceive a healthy child.
- Start prenatal care before you get pregnant. Schedule an appointment with your ob-gyn and/or midwife for a checkup before you conceive. This gives practitioners the chance to identify and treat any issues that may exist.
- Don’t eat for two; nourish for two. There are usually misconceptions about what women should eat before and during pregnancy. First and foremost, it is key to eat more quality products, not necessarily more quantity. This means that you should increase your intake of foods with a high nutritional value and decrease the amount of food with unhealthy fats and simple sugars. The foods you eat today can get stored in your body and become building blocks for your baby tomorrow. For example, dioxins are toxic chemicals found in animal fat. The more animal fat you consume, the more dioxins you accumulate in your body. You can reduce your total body store of dioxins by reducing the consumption of saturated fats, trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils. If you wait until you are pregnant to change your eating habits, you will not be able to eliminate dioxins in your body. Nonetheless, it is important to eat well during pregnancy to ensure your baby is getting all the right nutrients.
- Eat more brain foods. Brain foods can help your future baby grow a healthy brain. These include beans, eggs, nuts and seeds, olive oil, Alaskan wild salmon (or any other cold water oily fish), yogurt and kefir, whole grains, spinach, collards, kale, broccoli, prunes, raisins, blueberries, oranges, red bell peppers and tomatoes.
- Avoid toxic foods. Toxic foods can cause harm to your health and your future baby. These include the following.
- Swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish. They contain high levels of mercury.
- Products made with unpasteurized milk. These products may carry bacteria that cause a disease called listeriosis, which in pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery or infection in the newborn. While most supermarkets only sell dairy made from pasteurized milk, make sure that the products you buy clearly state that.
- Hot dogs, luncheon meats, deli meats, raw or smoked seafood, raw or undercooked meat. These meats can also contain the bacteria that cause listeriosis.
- Unwashed fruits and vegetables, as well as juices of unwashed produce, and raw vegetable sprouts. Unwashed produce can carry and spread certain disease-causing microscopic organisms, including those that cause toxoplasmosis.
- Liver, which contains high amounts of vitamin A. Excessive intake of vitamin A can produce birth defects.
- Saturated fats and trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup and refined flour.
- Take your vitamins. You should take a daily multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. Folic acid has many benefits, including preventing spina bifida or anencephaly. It is preferable to take a multivitamin over folic acid alone because other vitamins and minerals are also important for a healthy pregnancy.
- Achieve a healthy weight. Being underweight or overweight puts you at risk for a number of pregnancy complications. It’s important to achieve a healthy weight before you get pregnant. Set realistic goals and a timeline for yourself. Once you’ve achieved your goal, try to maintain a stable weight for at least three to six months to allow the body to adjust to your new size before attempting to conceive.
- Learn to relax. One of the best things you can do to get ready for pregnancy and parenting is to learn how to prevent or reduce stress. There are techniques you can practice, such as deep breathing, progressive relaxation, mindfulness exercise and transcendental meditation, to aid in relaxation. A positive mental health and a strong network of social support, which includes your relationship with your partner, help you stay resilient through the stresses of pregnancy and parenting.
- Tune up your immune system. Infection and inflammation pose perhaps the biggest threats to a healthy pregnancy. The best defense is to strengthen your immune system. You can do this by reducing saturated fats and trans fats from your diet and increasing your intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables that are loaded with antioxidants.
- Detoxify your environment. Many common household products like certain air fresheners, antibacterial soaps, cosmetics, deodorants and detergents, just to name a few, contain potential reproductive and developmental toxic byproducts. Ask your ob-gyn which of the products you use should be replaced. Dry cleaning can also be dangerous if you are thinking of becoming pregnant. Most dry cleaners use a chemical called perchloroethylene (or perc) that has been linked to particular conception and pregnancy issues. You can reduce your exposure to perc by avoiding chemical dry cleaning whenever possible, making sure the car is well ventilated on the way home from the dry cleaner and removing the plastic bags and air out of your dry cleaning outdoors before storing them.
- Help your man get ready. Men contribute about half of the baby’s genetic materials through sperm DNA. Men’s sperm DNA can get damaged in a lot of different ways via tobacco, alcohol, drugs, caffeine, diet, medical conditions, environmental toxicants and the list goes on. The good news is that men continue to make new sperm, meaning that if they take good care of themselves for three months, men can replace a lot of the damaged goods with healthy sperm. You can help your man prepare by encouraging him to see his doctor for preconception care.