6 ways to prepare for a healthy pregnancy

From tabloids to health magazines, the post pregnancy ‘snap back’ is a popular read. Before and after photos flood our timelines outlining how quickly celebrities lost weight after pregnancy, and the diets and exercises that helped.

But a new trend seems poised to take over. It’s getting fit and healthy BEFORE pregnancy.

Preconception health care focuses on improving and maintaining the health of women and men during their reproductive years to increase the chances of delivering a healthy baby.

Whether you’re planning for your first child, or thinking of having another, these seven steps could help you prepare.

1. See your doctor first

Topics your doctor will likely discuss include your medical history and any conditions you may have that could impact your pregnancy. You will need to talk about any problems you may have had with previous pregnancies, including difficulties conceiving, the actual pregnancy, and the delivery. Also, medications and supplements you are taking that could pose a risk. It’s a good idea to prepare a list of questions or concerns you may have before your appointment.

2. Know your family history

Even if you have received the “all-clear,” conditions other family members have could be written into your genetic code and passed onto your child. So it’s important to look into both you and your partner’s family history. When gathering your family history, focus on blood relatives and go back as many generations as you can.

 

3. Consume a whole foods diet

Consuming foods rich in vitamins and minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats is as vital in the months leading up to conception as during pregnancy.

Supplements can provide some vitamins and mineral lacking in your diet, and one of the most important is a B vitamin called folic acid. According to the Centers for Disease Control, taking folic acid for at least one month prior to conception can reduce the risk of neural-tube defects, such as spinal bifida by up to 70 percent. The recommended daily intake of folic acid for women of childbearing age is at least 400 micrograms. During pregnancy it increases to 600 to 800 mcg.

4. Achieve and maintain a normal weight

Obesity carries with it a plethora of health concerns. These increase with pregnancy and pose risks to both mother and baby. Macrosomia, a condition where the baby is larger than it should be, increasing the risk of injury during birth, is more common in obese mothers. Early deliveries are also common due to the inability to carry the baby to term because of complications resulting from obesity. Excess body fat can also inhibit the ability to effectively conduct tests like ultrasounds, necessary for monitoring fetal development. Babies born to obese mothers also have an increased risk of birth defects.

Health issues for the obese mom include gestational hypertension (high blood pressure), also known as preeclampsia. This condition, which starts in the second trimester, poses a risk to both mother and baby. Complications include liver and kidney failure, stroke and even death. Gestational diabetes causes high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, increasing the risk of macrosomia. Cesarean deliveries are common in these cases.

Strive to obtain a healthy weight prior to conception and maintain normal weight gain during your pregnancy. Body Mass Index, an estimate of body fat, is the most common way of determining whether your weight is normal.

BMI: 18.5–24.9

Normal Weight

BMI: 25.0–29.9

Overweight

BMI: 30.0–39.9

Obese

BMI: 40.0 and above

Extremely or Morbidly Obese

An online calculator will help you easily determine your BMI, but remember, it’s only an estimate, and does have limits. For example, it may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have high muscle density.

5. Consider avoiding alcohol

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, caused by excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy, is characterized by retardation of mental development and of physical growth. But it doesn’t only cause problems after you are pregnant. Research shows that heavy, and in some cases, even moderate drinking can affect fertility in both men and women. While it isn’t clear exactly how much alcohol consumption makes a woman less fertile, a 2009 Harvard study of couples undergoing IVF showed that women who drank more than six units per week were 18 percent less likely to conceive, and men were 14 percent less likely. Some doctors advise against alcohol consumption altogether for couples planning a pregnancy.

6. Acknowledge your mental and emotional health

Feeling sad, anxious, worried or fatigued from time to time is a natural part of life, but constant stress can affect the functioning of the hypothalamus — the part of the brain that regulates emotions, appetite and tells your ovaries when to release eggs. Some doctors believe the link between infertility and stress is associated with the rise in hormones like cortisol during stressful periods. So while the popular saying “relax and let it happen” seems cliché, it may actually be sound advice.

After you’ve checked off all the items above, the next step is to work on getting pregnant. Once that happens, be sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle and visit your doctor regularly throughout the pregnancy to monitor both you and your baby’s development and health.

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