Preparing for Pregnancy
As you prepare for pregnancy, you will want to be as healthy as possible. The fetus is most vulnerable during the first trimester, so CDC guidelines recommend that prenatal healthcare start several months before you even find out that you are pregnant.
Get your necessary nutrients
Whether you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you need a prenatal vitamin. Prenatal vitamins provide the vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, which a woman needs before and during pregnancy.
Folic acid supplementation is necessary for your baby’s health. Folic acid reduces the risk of several birth defects like cleft palate and spina bifida.
If you are of childbearing age, you should be taking at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, whether you are trying to conceive or not. Most multivitamins and prenatal vitamins contain enough folic acid and other essential nutrients to keep you and your unborn (or future) baby safe.
Balance ovulation with a fertility diet
Researchers at Harvard University studied the food intake of thousands of nurses of childbearing age to learn more about the link between diet and fertility. The scientists noticed differences in the eating habits of women that became pregnant and those diagnosed with a form of infertility that affected ovulation. The dietary habits of the women who became pregnant during the study became known as the "fertility diet." The fertility diet includes the following:
- Taking a daily multivitamin containing iron and folic acid
- Eating several daily servings of vegetable protein (for example, beans and soy) instead of animal protein
- Consuming at least one full-fat serving of dairy per day (like whole milk, cheese, or ice cream)
- Replacing white breads and starches with complex carbohydrates (try brown rice, whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta)
- Reducing consumption of trans fats, often found in sugary or starchy, processed foods
Avoid certain foods during pregnancy
Now that you know the foods considered beneficial for women who are trying to conceive, you should understand that some foods are off-limits. Pregnant women are at a higher risk for Listeriosis than other groups. Listeriosis is a bacterial infection caused by Listeria monocytogenes. This bacterium causes symptoms including fever, stiff neck, nausea, and diarrhea. The virus can even infect the unborn fetus, causing serious complications.
To prevent consuming the harmful Listeria bacteria, it’s important to avoid the following foods during pregnancy:
- Soft, unpasteurized cheeses like brie, feta, blue-veined cheese, Mexican queso blanco fresco, and Camembert
- Refrigerated pate and meat spreads (canned, shelf-stable options are safe)
- Refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it has been cooked
- Raw, unpasteurized milk
- Hot dogs, luncheon, and deli meats, unless thoroughly heated
- Raw, undercooked fish and meats
Other foods that you will want to avoid include fish that contain high levels of mercury. This includes shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Albacore "white" tuna should be eaten in limited amounts, as should tuna steak.
Other tips for pregnancy
If you are trying to get pregnant and work around toxic chemicals or materials, you may want to consider a temporary change in employment. Also, if your partner works with chemicals, pesticides, or fertilizers, make every effort to wash the clothes and skin before getting close to you. These substances can harm a growing fetus.
Other things to take care of prenatally and during pregnancy include the following:
- Avoid cigarettes, alcohol, and street drugs. While public health campaigns have advertised the dangers of these substances during pregnancy, one in 10 pregnant women continues to drink alcohol or smoke tobacco, threatening their babies’ health.
- Know that some herbs and medications can also be dangerous to a young fetus.
- Visit your healthcare provider before getting pregnant to discuss the safety of any drugs or herbal remedies that you take regularly.
Find your healthiest weight
Before getting pregnant, make every attempt to stay within a healthy weight range. By staying at a healthy weight before pregnancy, you can boost your chances of conceiving and prevent some complications of pregnancy. Your doctor or a nutritionist can guide you in making smart dietary choices for your prenatal health.
If you are overweight, ask your doctor about an exercise routine that is safe before and during pregnancy. Regular exercise can help you lose weight, and may reduce your stress level. This might make conception and pregnancy easier. Once you are pregnant, you will want to avoid exercises that pose a high risk of injury or falling. Yoga, swimming, walking, and stationary biking are all good options for the prenatal period and beyond.
See a doctor before pregnancy begins
While the United States has some of the best healthcare resources in the world, birth outcomes in this country are worse than other countries with similar means. To reduce your risk of complications during pregnancy the CDC recommends that you begin planning for pregnancy at least three months before trying to conceive.
Visit your doctor to discuss your health and any medical screenings or vaccinations that you might need. Ask your doctor if you have a health condition requiring extra monitoring during pregnancy. This includes STDs, asthma, obesity, depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Your doctor can help you get on track to improve your health, boost your fertility, and reduce complications during pregnancy.Sources
- Attain Fertility: Foods To Avoid While Preparing for Pregnancy
- CDC: Preconception Care
- Diet and Lifestyle in the Prevention of Ovulatory Disorder Infertility. Chavarro, Jorge E. MD, ScD; Rich-Edwards, Janet W. MPH, ScD; Rosner, Bernard A. PhD; Willett, Walter C. MD, DrPH. Obstetrics & Gynecology: November 2007 - Volume 110 - Issue 5 - pp 1050-1058.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Healthy Pregnancy