Preconception: Preparing for Pregnancy
Preparing for Pregnancy
Preparing for pregnancy is both exciting and life-changing. There's a lot of planning from choosing a name to selecting colors, furniture, and decorations for the nursery. Often overlooked, however, is preparing for conception.
Preconception is the window before, during, and directly after conception. Many experts say the health of the parents-to-be during this window is just as important as the health of the mother during pregnancy.
Research suggests that environmental and lifestyle factors influence fertility. For example, diet and environmental toxins can cause oxidative damage to sperm DNA. This can reduce sperm count and may hinder the merging of the egg and sperm. Alcohol, tobacco, and hormone disruptors, such as herbicides can also have a detrimental effect on fertility.
Preparation for conception ideally begins at minimum four to six months before trying to conceive. The reason is that it takes three months for female eggs to mature and four months for sperm to mature. So, the four to six-month window gives individuals the time to eliminate toxins and introduce nutrients for healthy eggs and sperm.
"Your baby's first nursery is your body…."[i]
Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare. Remember to start as early as possible.
It Takes Two
Preconception planning takes both partners. Many people think it's only the women who need to prepare their bodies for conception. However, as mentioned above, diet, environmental influences, and other conditions can also affect the sperm. Research shows that some men do not get enough nutrients for healthy sperm.
Eating healthy not only improves nutrient levels, but it also helps to remove toxins and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
- Eat fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Daily eat fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants. You want to eat organic to reduce chemical exposure.
- Consume healthy and lean proteins. Avoid if possible factory-farmed meats; they are often given antibiotics and hormones. Try grass-feed meats.
- Get Omega-3s. Include salmon and other fish, nuts, flaxseed oil in your diet. Avoid eating shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel. According to the FDA and EPA, these fish are high in mercury and need to be avoided by women who plan to get pregnant or are pregnant. Low mercury fish can be consumed about twice weekly; this includes tilapia, shrimp, clams, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
- Add probiotics to your diet. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and miso that haven't been pasteurized have beneficial bacteria. They can be found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores. Also, yogurt with live cultures, kombucha, tempeh, and kefir have probiotics.
- Eat whole grains foods. Read the labels of foods that say they are whole grain; some claim to be whole grain but only have a small portion of whole grains. Avoid processed foods and fast food; they contain many chemicals.
- Get enough folic acids. Folic acid helps to reduce congenital disabilities. Because it's difficult to get enough folic acid from diet alone, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women planning to get pregnant and during the first three months of pregnancy take 400 micrograms of folic acid from a supplement.
What to Stop, Avoid, or Check
Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, recreational drug use, and limit caffeine. Talk to your doctor about any prescription medicines that you are taking to see if they can cause congenital disabilities.
Lose weight if you are overweight and maintain a healthy weight. This is especially important for women. You naturally gain weight during pregnancy, but excessive weight can cause some health issues while pregnant.
Reduce the amount of chemical exposure where possible. Change out chemical household cleaners for natural ones or use baking soda and white vinegar. Also, avoid purchasing furniture or carpeting that release chemical fumes. Men also need to avoid chemicals; many chemicals can lower sperm count and quality of the sperm which can result in miscarriages.
Get your house tested for lead paint if it was built before 1978. A qualified lead abatement specialist should only do the removal of lead paint.
Exercise, Reduce Stress, and Sleep
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
- Reduce your stress levels because it can affect the ability to get pregnant. For example, stress is associated with missed periods which can make tracking ovulation difficult.
- Make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Sleep helps to repair the body which is essential for getting pregnant and for pregnancy.
There is a tendency among many couples planning to get pregnant to have a last hurrah by eating, drinking, and doing other activities that are off-limits during pregnancy. Research, however, show that preconception is the time to act as if you are already pregnant when it comes to lifestyle choices.
5 Ways to Prepare for Pregnancy Naturally (March 22, 2016). Retrieved from https://www.motherrisingbirth.com/2016/03/prepare-for-pregnancy.html.
How to prepare your body for pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.naturalhealthmag.com.au/content/how-prepare-your-body-pregnancy.
Peri, Camille. Get a Head Start on a Healthy Pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/head-start-on-a-healthy-pregnancy#1.
Preconception Health For Women. Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/women-preconception-health/.
[i] Australian Natural Health, How to prepare your body for pregnancy. Web.
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