With growing excitement, you and your partner decide the time is right to have a child. While pregnancy is a natural event, getting your health in order will increase the likelihood of conception and of giving birth to a healthy child. What follows is some of the most important advice that I give to my patients when preparing for pregnancy.
Eat a healthy diet.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimerís. It is also a diet that increases the likelihood of conception ó both au natural and when using IVF. Mediterranean diets include abundant unrefined grains, legumes, fish, vegetables, and fruit. Olive oil is the principal oil in the diet, and meat is consumed sparingly if at all.
Other specific dietary recommendations that have been shown to reduce infertility include eating more vegetable protein and less animal protein (substitute beans and nuts for meat or poultry), choosing whole fat rather than low or non-fat dairy products, and avoiding soda and simple carbohydrates.
Fish is complex. While you will want to reduce exposure to mercury by avoiding shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, you donít want to avoid all fish, as itís one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. So enjoy your wild salmon, sardines, herring, and black cod.
Take a good multivitamin.
The American academies of family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics all recommend that women of childbearing age take a multivitamin. Prenatal multivitamins reduce the risk of neural tube, heart, and other birth defects. They make it easier to conceive and less likely to miscarry. And, three recent studies revealed an association between the use of folic acid prior to conception and a 40-percent lower risk of autism.
Choose your multivitamin and supplements with care. They can vary tremendously. You will want it to contain: folic acid, 400-600 mcg; iron, 18 mg; and iodine, 150 mcg, among the various ingredients.
I also recommend that most women take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. These essential fats are scarce in the American diet. While omega-3 is abundant in some fish, many women avoid fish to reduce their exposure to mercury. Look for molecularly distilled fish oil with both DHA (for your babyís developing brain, about 300-400 mg) and EPA (to prevent postpartum depression, about 500-600 mg) and take it with your largest meal of the day.
Reconsider your exercise routine.
I encourage all my patients to be fit. So many of my women patients are surprised to hear that when attempting to conceive, I ask them to reduce their exercise! With the exception of overweight women, vigorous exercise reduces fertility. Consider your own exercise habits, and stop running and begin to walk; if you are a yogini, switch from Ashtanga or power yoga to a quieter, more restorative form.
Reduce your environmental chemical exposures.
There are more than 80,000 industrial chemicals in use in the United States. Many are endocrine disruptors, which means they alter the normal function of hormones. They are in plastics, canned foods, cleaning materials, bug spray, and even makeup. These environmental chemicals can increase the risk of ADHD, autism, diabetes, and heart disease. You can reduce your exposure to environmental toxins. I suggest that you begin with a self-assessment and consider the following questions.
- Do you know which vegetables and fruits have the most pesticide contamination?
- Do you avoid fish that contains high levels of mercury and PCBs?
- Do you check the ingredients in your cosmetics, lotions, and shampoos for endocrine disruptors?
- Do you use green cleaning products?
- Do you use perfumes, scented candles, and/or air fresheners?
- Do you spray the house for bugs, or have your lawn sprayed?
Many resources are now available to guide you to safer choices. My favorite website is the one for Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org), which addresses food, water, cosmetics, and cleaning products. When you avoid environmental chemicals, you can significantly reduce many of these toxins in your body. Studies show that in just three days, adults who avoided canned food and plastics lowered their levels of BPA (bisphenol A).
Preparing for pregnancy by getting your own health in order is the finest gift you can give your child. May you be blessed with the joys of parenthood!