My husband often tells me to stop reading. When I am trying to make a decision about something, I am the type of person who has to over-analzye it and over-research every possible option. It is kind of a miracle that I am able to actually make a decision. True to form, I started researching pregnancy before we were even ready to try to conceive. I wanted to know how I could prepare my body for pregnancy, my home, my dog, my husband… we all had to be prepared! I also think I was excited to get pregnant, but the timing wasn’t right. Preparing to conceive made me feel like I was doing something proactive.
I know that it is often not possible to prepare to conceive. Sometimes it just happens. However, if you have the time to prepare, here are some things you can do before you are even pregnant.
1. Start taking a prenatal vitamin. Studies show that taking multivitamins or folic acid before conception reduces the chances that a baby will be born with neural tube defects like spina bifida. One study also suggests that taking folic acid for at least a year before pregnancy reduces the chances of premature birth. Health practitioners recommend at least 400 micrograms of folic acid per day when trying to conceive or when you are already pregnant. Most prenatal vitamins will contain this amount. Prenatal vitamins also contain other important vitamins and minerals that you and your baby need. I used New Chapter Organic Perfect Prenatal.
2. Stop smoking. Stop smoking now and give your body time to heal before you conceive. I’m sure you all already know the benefits of quitting smoking. Also, you don’t want to deal with pregnancy hormones and withdrawals from your nicotine addiction all at once.
3. Stop or slow down your other “bad” habits. Party every weekend? Drink 5 cups of coffee everyday? Now is the time to slow down. I certainly didn’t quit drinking before I tried to conceive, but I did slow down. Drinking too much puts a lot of stress on your body. Although health professionals say pregnant women don’t need to stop caffeine intake completely, I did stop drinking caffeine when I was preparing to conceive because I did not want to consume caffeine during my first trimester, and I also didn’t want to deal with caffeine withdrawals while I was already pregnant. Studies show that certain levels of caffeine intake can be linked to birth defects, infertility, and miscarriages. I supplemented my morning coffee with peppermint tea, and I was over my withdrawal symptoms within a few days. Giving up caffeine was extremely difficult for me. I had no idea the withdrawal symptoms would be that bad. I felt like I was living in a fog or that I was still sleeping while I was awake. Here is some information about how to quit caffeine. Like I said, you don’t have to stop completely, you might just choose to slow down.
4. Improve your diet. I think the government’s food pyramid guide is an easy way to start improving your diet. While you may choose to alter the diet to fit your preferences, it is a good starting point. They even have a guide for pregnant and breastfeeding moms. I made other changes like avoiding foods with high fructose corn syrup. Yes, I realize that avoiding high fructose corn syrup is controversial, but there is no doubt that HFCS is mostly found in junk food or processed food. Avoid HFCS and you are on your way to eating more healthful foods. I also avoided foods that contained partially hydrogenated oils. I would just rather eat butter instead of margarine. The calorie difference is negligible considering the health effects of partially hydrogentated oils. Also, when I knew I was consuming more calories from eating the “real thing,” I would eat less. Simply cutting these two ingredients forced me to eat more whole foods and more “real” foods. I also started reading labels and comparing products. I would just buy the product with the simplest ingredient list.
5. Limit your exposure to endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormonal system. Endocrine disruptors can be both natural or man-made, and it is impossible to live in our modern world without coming into contact with these chemicals daily. Even people living in a bubble would be exposed, unless the bubble was somehow PCB and PBDE-free 😉 Endocrine disruptors have been blamed for increased risk of infertility, birth defects, and lasting neurological defects. This topic is too extensive for this post (we’ll try to cover it later!), but this website from the National Institutes of Health has a lot of great information that will surely convince you to limit your exposure. I recommend limiting your exposure before you are even pregnant because these chemicals are so pervasive in our world that it takes a lot of effort to remove them. Here is a list of some things you can do to limit your exposure:
♦Start buying phthalate-free makeup and personal care products. I buy most of my products at the health food store, but even that doesn’t guarantee they are phthalate-free. Go to Skin Deep to find clean personal care products.
♦Avoid canned foods and polycarbonate plastic products. Both of these items contain BPA, and it is nearly impossible to find BPA-free canned foods (though they do exist, like in some organic Eden products). The National Toxicology Program expresses, “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.” The level of “some concern” falls in the middle of their scale between negligible concern and serious concern.
♦Stop using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides in your home. Instead, use organic methods of gardening and natural or non-toxic pesticides. Use corn gluten meal on your lawn to fertilize and prevent weeds. In my home, on the rare occasion that I’ve had an insect problem like ants, I’ve used borax around the baseboards and the ant problem was solved within a day or two (borax is also great for natural cleaning). If you have pets, use only natural pesticides. Food-grade Diatomaceous Earth works well in the yard for bugs like fleas. However, if you keep your pet in top health, you probably won’t even need flea solution.
♦Go organic. Or at least go as organic as possible. Avoid the Dirty Dozen. Opt for organic dairy products, meats, and oils.
6. Exercise. The first thing my midwife told me when I was pregnant was that I could continue my exercise routine, but I shouldn’t start anything new. Well, I didn’t exactly have an exercise routine other than walking my dog and doing yoga in the mornings. Next time, I will start an exercise routine before I get pregnant so I have more options once I am pregnant. Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by James F. Clapp III is a good resource about this.
7. If you do not have a midwife or OB-GYN or if you want a new one, start interviewing different providers in your area and visiting hospitals. Midwife.org provides a search engine to help you find a midwife in your area.
8. Prepare the daddy-to-be by helping him improve his diet and limiting his exposure to endocrine disruptors, including soy, because those things also affect his fertility. Help him get his weight under control, and ask him to stop carrying his cell phone around in his pocket.
9. Reduce your stress and find time to relax. Making your life easier now will make your life 100 times easier once you are pregnant.
10. Start charting. A good resource for this is the book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I didn’t chart because we weren’t officially trying to conceive yet. However, understanding how your body and your fertility works is going to be useful when you try to conceive.