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Articles / How to prepare for pregnancy and is it really worth it?

How to prepare for pregnancy and is it really worth it?

The decision to have a child will probably be one of the most important decisions you ever make. How can you be counted among the fulfilled women who are as happy after the birth of their child as they were when they made the decision to conceive? The answer is simple. Make some lifestyle changes even before your baby is born.

Experts agree that women who consciously plan and prepare for their pregnancies, in most cases: 

  • Find it easier to get pregnant (their body is healthier and better prepared for pregnancy).
  • Have healthier pregnancies that take a normal course.
  • Experience less pregnancy complications.
  • Give birth to healthy children.
  • Get back in shape faster after giving birth.
  • Have more pleasant experiences during the first months of the baby's life.
  • Minimize the risks of health complications in the child, now and in the future.

It’s best to start preparing at least three months before becoming pregnant. This is more or less how much time the woman's body needs to change its rhythm and begin to benefit from the necessary vitamins.

When preparing for a pregnancy, consider the following guidelines:

 Visit a gynecologist

Inform your gynecologist of your decision to get pregnant.

  • If you don’t have an up-to-date Pap smear, ask your doctor to perform one. Untreated conditions may hinder your efforts to get pregnant and lead to early an miscarriage and complications during pregnancy.
  • Talk to your doctor about any diseases from which you suffer, and inform him or her about the more serious parts of your health history (history of surgeries, treatments, prolonged pharmacotherapy).
  • If you take any medications, do tell your doctor. Some medications may be dangerous during early pregnancy (you could get pregnant any moment), or may lower your fertility (which you surely do not want now).
  • If you haven’t had rubella and measles, and you haven’t been vaccinated, do ask your doctor for a vaccine. You should NOT get vaccinated for rubella during pregnancy, only before. You should also get vaccinated for hepatitis B.
  • Ask for a complete blood count to rule out anemia. Make sure you’re in the best shape possible. Remember: a healthy mom = a healthy baby.
  • Examine your thyroid hormone (TSH) levels. Irregularities in thyroid gland functionality may significantly reduce fertility and lead to miscarriages.
  • Ask for a blood test that checks for Toxoplasmosis antibodies, a disease transmitted by some animals (mainly cats) and through contact with raw meat. It’s very dangerous for the fetus. Some people who have a cat may be resistant to the disease (they could have gone through it without even knowing it). However, if the test shows that you have not had toxoplasmosis before, you should exercise extreme caution while trying to conceive and pass on such duties as cleaning the cat litter box.
  • You should test for cytomegalo virus. If you have had this disease, you’re safe. If not, you must exercise caution, because infection during pregnancy is dangerous for the developing fetus.

 Maintain a proper body weight and stay active

Being at a proper body weight is helpful during the process of ovulation. Being either very underweight or overweight may cause a hormonal imbalance. In order for ovulation to occur, a woman needs at least 20% of body fat, because the hormones are of lipid (fatty) origin. Without the necessary amount of fat, a woman's body does not produce the sufficient amount of hormones and ovulation does not occur. Obesity, on the other hand, may cause an excessive production of hormones and thus lead to excessively long periods  of fertile mucus occurrence, as well as belated and irregular ovulation cycles.

Appropriate weight and good conditioning also contribute to your well being and health once you get pregnant. Pregnancy places a big burden on the woman's body, so you should try to strengthen your muscles even before you become pregnant.
Just remember, this is not the time to push yourself too hard, nor for a drastic weight change, because this may disrupt your body's hormonal balance and negatively affect your fertility. Therefore, choose moderately intense exercise, which you can continue even after you get pregnant, and do it two to three times a week.

 Protect your child and remember about folic acid

One of the most important elements of your diet, which you should remember to include as soon as you start to prepare for pregnancy, is folic acid (vitamin B9). Folic acid is essential for the baby’s proper development, as it prevents serious birth defects. The biggest doses are needed in the fetus’ first weeks of life, when all of the organs are developing, especially the neural tube and the nervous system. Folic acid deficiency is also associated with a higher risk of miscarriage and premature birth.

To feed your body the folic acid it needs, start taking it at least one, and preferably three months prior to getting pregnant. The minimal daily dose of folic acid is 400 mcg per day. Remember that in addition to taking supplements, you should also provide your body with folic acid in its natural form through your daily diet. Foods rich in folic acid are mainly green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus), legumes (beans, peas), citrus (oranges), whole-wheat bread and liver.

 Eat a proper diet

A healthy diet can not only boost your fertility, but also ensure your baby’s healthy development once you become pregnant. Try to eat regularly now, preferably every three or four hours. Choose healthy, diverse, and home-made meals. This will provide your body with the essential nutrients. Focus on fruits and vegetables (preferably choose locally grown, seasonal and organic ones). Eat fish (be careful what fish you do eat; read the "choose fish carefully" section) and meat twice a week. During the day, drink plenty of water. It’s best to limit your consumption of sugar, fat and salt. Excessive amounts can damage your health and disrupt your hormonal balance.

Remember that while trying to conceive you should not consume light versions of food products. Read more about the principles of healthy eating during pregnancy here.

 In the absence of sun, provide your body with appropriate doses of vitamin D

According to recent studies (European Journal of Technology), vitamin D can significantly affect fertility in both women and men, because it contributes to hormonal balance and improves the quality of egg cells and sperm.

Our body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to natural sunlight. Exposing your body to the sun for about 15-20 minutes a day is enough to achieve a healthy level of vitamin D. Some climate zones, however, don’t provide adequate amounts of sunshine during the autumn and winter months. In these cases, it’s best to start taking vitamin D supplements (first discuss this with your doctor), and to add foods rich in vitamin D to your diet, such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel), eggs and butter.

 Choose fish carefully

Many people know that eating fish is good for you. Fish contains Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamin D, all very important for a future mom. Not everybody, however, is aware that fish should be chosen carefully, because not all of it is good for our health. Unfortunately, due to increasing water pollution, fish today contain mercury, which our body stores, and which is dangerous for our health.

Most doctors agree that women trying to have a baby, as well as pregnant women should eat fish, but in reasonable amounts (not more than two portions a week), choosing those with the lowest mercury content. Large fish, such as tuna, shark and marlin, contain the most mercury, so try to avoid them. Good fish for women who plan to have children are salmon, sardines, shrimp and trout.

 Vitamin E for your fertility and fetal development

Vitamin E also deserves special attention from women trying to get pregnant. It has a positive effect on fertility, regulates the body’s hormonal balance, and protects against the harmful effects of free radicals. It also prevents hemorrhages and miscarriages.
Vitamin E is also beneficial to the fetus once you get pregnant. Vitamin E deficiency can cause premature delivery and congenital defects.
Good sources of vitamin E include: sunflower oil, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, canola oil, shrimp and egg yolks.

 Visit your dentist and take care of your gums

Don’t forget about oral hygiene while trying to conceive. During pregnancy, tooth decay and gum disease may lead to premature delivery or an infection in the child. Additionally, the treatment of advanced tooth decay is sometimes problematic during pregnancy, because pregnant women should avoid anesthesia and x-rays. If you’re already trying to conceive, make an appointment to visit the dentist during the first phase of your cycle (before ovulation). Make sure you’re not already pregnant if, for example, you need to get anesthetized.

 It’s quite obvious, but extremely important: avoid all alcohol and drugs, and quit smoking!

If you’re consciously trying to get pregnant, this point may be obvious to you. It is, however, worth noting that smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and taking drugs do not go hand in hand with maternity. Not only do they lower fertility, they also lead to miscarriages, premature birth, low birth weight and many birth defects in children.

There’s no such thing as a safe dose of alcohol during pregnancy, and when you’re trying, you could be successful at any time during the second half of your cycle and not even know it. If you fancy a glass of wine while trying to conceive, have it during the first half of your cycle!

 Reduce your consumption of coffee, tea, and other beverages containing caffeine

If you are a coffee lover, there’s no need to give it up completely. Limit your consumption to one cup per day. A high caffeine intake has a negative effect on fertility, and may lead to a miscarriage during early pregnancy. Remember: caffeine is found not only in coffee, but also in many other food products, like soda and black or green tea.

 Ask yourself: are you and your partner ready to have a baby?

This question should probably be at the top of this list. Is the person with whom you are planning to have a baby the right one, at the right time, and do you have realistic expectations of yourself and your partner? Are you ready to introduce a new member of the family into your household? Don’t make such an important decision too hastily: under pressure, or because of a situation you’re in. Talk openly with your partner about how you imagine your life after giving birth, how you’ll divide household chores, values that are important to you (do they match?) and which you would like to instill in your child, and what you’d like to protect your child from.

Don’t think having a child will cure all the problems in your relationship. If you do think so, you will most likely be disappointed. Most couples go through a crisis once the child is born, and a strong relationship will get stronger, while a weak one may not make it through.

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