If you intend to have a baby, you may be wondering what preparation you have to do. The most important thing on your to-do list is not what to buy but instead how you can prepare your body for pregnancy. A fetus needs much nourishment as well as a conducive environment to grow – and this means that taking care of your body even before you are pregnant is the first step in creating that environment for your baby to thrive.
9 Preparation Tips for your Body
#1 Stop negative lifestyle choices
If you smoke or drink alcohol regularly, you should consider stopping these. Smoking is a risk factor in many childhood health conditions including sudden infant death syndrome, and exposes the fetus to harmful chemicals. Smoking for men may also affect the quality of his sperm, and when the baby is born, second-hand smoke also affects the baby’s development. Alcohol is related to infertility, preterm labour, miscarriage, low-birth-weight baby and certain birth defects. Drinking also puts the baby at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome.
#2 Start eating healthy
Having a balanced diet is important, as well as cutting processed foods, sugar and fried food. You can also choose organic foods for the “dirty dozen” which refer to foods that have the highest pesticide content; fruits and vegetables that are part of the 2017 list compiled by Environmental Working Group (“EWG”) include strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes.
For a healthy diet, include daily servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, proteins and foods that are high in calcium, such as yoghurt. Eating healthy, together with exercise, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, is associated with reduced risk of gestational diabetes.
#3 Have a multivitamin
Let’s face it – it is not possible to have a balanced diet all the time. If you are not taking multivitamins, you can start on a prenatal multivitamin before pregnancy. Iron and calcium are needed in higher quantity, whereas there are restrictions on vitamin A and D. Do check with your GP what vitamins you can get started on before pregnancy.
#4 Increase folic acid
Folic acid is often prescribed as prenatal supplement in early pregnancy as it helps to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies. The recommended amount is 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid per day, and be sure to check whether the prenatal vitamin has already included folic acid.
#5 Start Exercising (if you have not been doing so!)
Exercise helps to manage your body weight, promotes sleep and helps the body to be fit to carry the baby (for instance, a stronger core reduces the likelihood of backache during pregnancy). Exercise also relieves stress and improves your mood, which helps increase your chance of getting pregnant. You can start with 15 minutes of moderate exercise daily and work up to at least 150 to 300 minutes per week. Be careful of not overdoing exercise like running a marathon before pregnancy as it may disrupt your hormonal balance.
#6 Maintain a healthy weight
Do not think that getting pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) gives you a free pass to not watch your weight. On the contrary, it is even more important as obese mothers are linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, oversize babies and c-section delivery. On the other hand, it is not advisable to lose too much weight or be too thin, as being so is related to infertility, preterm labor, low-birth-weight baby or becoming anemic.
#7 Have a medical checkup
Certain health conditions may affect your likelihood of getting pregnant, or pose complications during pregnancy. It is therefore recommended to go for medical screening prior to getting pregnant so that you can plan when to get pregnant (after control of pre-existing health conditions) or to let your doctor know what to watch out for during prenatal consultations. If you suspect that you or your partner may have sexually transmitted disease, get tested before pregnancy. Similarly, it is a good time to gather a more complete record of your family medical history.
#8 Be vaccinated
As certain medications are not recommended during pregnancy, it is advisable to be adequately vaccinated prior to pregnancy. Flu vaccination, as well as checking if certain vaccinations have lapsed are important.
#9 Visit the dentist
During pregnancy, the hormones may cause you to be more vulnerable to gum disease, sometimes leading to pregnancy gingivitis and cavities. The higher level of progesterone and estrogen can cause the gums to be more sensitive to bacteria, resulting in tender or bleeding gums. It is best to ensure that you have good oral health before pregnancy.
What to Look Out For
While you prepare your body for pregnancy, it is also important to note that there are certain things to avoid!
1. Exposure to toxins – While certain chemicals may only be of danger to the body when present in high doses, there is no harm in being mindful about chemicals such as BPA (limit drinking from recycled plastic bottles), chemicals in home products, or chemicals in hair dyes. In your personal care products, reduce chemicals such as parabens, sodium laureth sulfate and mercury.
2. Reduce stress – Stress has been linked to low birth weight and preterm labour. Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, relaxing walks or any activity that gives your calm.
3. Remove inappropriate prescriptions – Check with your doctor which prescriptions are not suitable for taking when pregnant. Certain medications such as aspirins, ibuprofen, medications for skin problem or mental health may not be suitable.
4. Limit caffeine – While this should be limited during pregnancy, you may want to start cutting down so that you will be used to a lower level of caffeine when pregnant. Apart from coffee, caffeine is also contained in tea, coca cola, chocolates and energy drinks.
5. Be careful of unsafe foods – Foods such as raw fish, high-mercury fish, undercooked meat, deli meats, unpasteurized cheese and raw eggs are to be avoided. These foods may contain listeriosis, that is related to miscarriage. Fish that are high in mercury to avoid are shark, swordfish and king mackerel. Instead choose salmon or sardines as sources of omega-3.
6. Be safe – Certain household chores may expose you to dangerous toxins such as cleaning pet or their cages. Wash your hands when preparing meals, and be sure that your fridge is clean and at the right temperature for keeping foods fresh. Avoid crowded places or people who are sick.
While it is recommended to prepare your body for pregnancy, do not be unduly stressed over it. It is important to be optimistic and joyful, and enjoy this experience of getting ready for your baby.