By: Jennifer November, ND
The decision to get pregnant is a big one. One of the biggest an individual and a couple face. So much goes into the decision — are you ready as a couple? Are you ready as an individual? Is the timing appropriate with your chosen career path? Are your finances in order? And, is your health optimal for getting pregnant and growing a baby?
The following are some tips to help plan your road to a healthy conception and pregnancy:
How soon should you start on your road to health prior to pregnancy?
If you are considering getting pregnant, take at least 3-4 months to detox and get healthy. Your efforts will make for a much easier pregnancy — less nausea and sickness, body aches and pains, etc. — and most likely a healthier mom and baby.
Where should you start?
If you are a smoker, stopping is priority number one. Smoking causes premature birth, certain birth defects including cleft lip or cleft palate, problems with the placenta, and can lead to infant death. Additionally, smoking can make it more difficult to get pregnant and make the possibility of miscarriage higher. Ditch the cigarettes… your body and your baby will thank you.
A break from alcohol is also recommended. A clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that no amount of alcohol is safe during any trimester of pregnancy. The AAP “identifies prenatal exposure to alcohol as the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities in children.” Alcohol consumption can also lead to miscarriage and still birth. Because you most likely won’t know that you’re pregnant for up to 4 to 6 weeks, it is best to play it safe and abstain from alcohol altogether if you are trying to get pregnant.
Diet is crucial to optimizing preconception health. A clean, whole foods diet is ideal, integrating lots of organic fruits and vegetables, and lean protein options (such as chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef, fish, beans, nuts, and eggs). Select organic, free range, and grass-fed meats when possible, which contain higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids, proven to be beneficial for cardiovascular health and reduced inflammation. Focus on “good” fats (i.e. monounsaturated) contained in avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds, which are anti-inflammatory and provide the antioxidant Vitamin E.
Be sure to include at least one hearty serving of green leafy vegetables per day (kale, swiss chard, spinach, mustard greens, collards, broccoli), which are great “liver-friendly” foods. Your liver is your prime organ of detoxification therefore, it is important to give it some extra love during the preconception period. Green leafy veggies are also a great source of folic acid, known to prevent neural tube defects, once you get pregnant.
Reduce consumption of caffeine, fast foods, fried foods, trans fats, sugary beverages and sweets. Remember though, moderation is the key to a healthy diet. It is important to not deprive yourself of occasional treats, but base the majority of your meals on whole, clean foods, which are chalk full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important for you and your soon-to-be growing baby.
Introduction of fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, or the addition of a daily probiotic supplement are a great addition for preconception health. The “good” bacteria included optimize digestion, improve the integrity of the microbiota of the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts, and decrease overall systemic inflammation.
Hydration… filtered water and plenty of it
In addition to a clean diet, clean water is also key. Industrial waste and byproducts, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides and herbicides can be found in tap water, as well as heavy metals. A good filter can clean up your drinking water — even a store bought brand such as Brita or Pure, can make a difference.
Make sure you are drinking at least 64 ounces of water per day. (Milk, diluted juice, and herbal teas also count toward your total.) Drinking water improves uterine, egg, and cervical fluid health, and promotes proper elimination, leading to overall improved health. Plus, a squeeze of lemon in your water throughout the day can also have a cleansing effect on your liver.
Reduce environmental toxin exposure
In addition to being found in drinking water, environmental toxins can also be found in plastics, food storage containers, household cleaning products, air fresheners, nonorganic foods, and dry cleaning solutions. Such chemicals as BPA, PCBs, phthalates, parabens and phytoestrogens can act as endocrine disrupters, sometimes leading to fertility problems. Choose glass storage containers, and when using plastic do not heat food or liquid in them. Opt for “green” cleaning and pest control products, organic foods, and as mentioned above, filtered drinking water. Avoid cigarettes and second hand smoke. And, look for cosmetics and skin care products that are free of parabens.
Get your Zzzz’s now…and chill
A sufficient amount of sleep, rest and relaxation are key to reducing stress and overall fatigue on your body. Eight hours is considered the minimum amount of sleep per night to allow your body to restore and recharge. In addition to sleep, make sure you are making time for yourself to do things that you enjoy. It is important to have YOU time in order to recharge your batteries.
Stress is a key component to difficulty conceiving, so introducing ways to combat anxiety are key. Short walks throughout the day, yoga, meditation, pampering, a quiet meal, a good book… take time for yourself each day to unplug from the stressors of life.
Exercise IS your friend
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. Exercise not only decreases the risk for heart disease, diabetes and many cancers, but also helps with weight control, stress relief, and promotes better sleep at night. These are all things that strengthen fertility and the chances for conception.
What about the men?
Preconception health is not only important for mom-to-be, but also dad-to-be. Sperm can be effected by overall health and lifestyle choices, including (but not limited to): diabetes, heavy alcohol use, street drugs, cigarettes, obesity, and exposure to environmental toxins. All of the aforementioned recommendations regarding diet, exercise, stress reduction, etc., are applicable and important for men as well.
It sounds like an undertaking, but even gradual, and minor changes to your routine, can make a big impact on your preconception health. Your body and your baby will thank you for it in the long run!
Dr. Jennifer November is a naturopathic doctor currently practicing at Naturopathic Family Medicine in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. She believes in health empowerment and her patients playing an active role in their wellness. Dr. November enjoys working with patients of all ages, with particular focus on women’s health and preventative medicine. Treatment recommendations integrate diet and lifestyle modifications, botanicals, homeopathy, hydrotherapy and energetics.