Preparing to become a parent can start well before you receive a positive pregnancy test. You might be emotionally prepared to have a baby — but is your body ready?
If you want to become pregnant, or have been trying for some time, there are a number of ways to set yourself up for success. As 21st Century pediatricians, we want to share our top 9 ways to prepare your body for pregnancy.
The key to this process is a simple one: starting before you get pregnant! With a little effort and planning, you’ll be giving your child amazing health advantages from their first moments of life.
When Should You Start Thinking about Pre-Pregnancy Health?
It’s a good idea to focus on your pre-pregnancy health at least 3 months before you start trying to get pregnant. This will give your body time to adjust to the lifestyle and environmental changes that you make, creating a healthier internal environment for your future baby.
If you have certain health conditions, chronic pain or other complaints, you may want to give yourself a little bit longer to get your health in tip-top shape. We’d love to talk to you about our recommendations for optimizing your pre-pregnancy health in a process we call “greening the womb.”
Preparing for Pregnancy Checklist:
You want to give your child the best start to life and have the healthiest pregnancy possible. That’s why many people come to GetzWell asking what they should do to prepare for pregnancy.
This is a good time to adjust your diet and health habits to get your body ready for pregnancy. Here is a checklist of 9 healthy steps to take a few months before you start trying to get pregnant.
- Learn About Your Medical History
To help ensure a healthy pregnancy, you’ll want to gain a clear picture of not only your health, but your partner’s and your family’s health.
Your medical history starts with…you! There are several factors about your health history that can influence not only your chances of getting pregnant, but how healthy your pregnancy will be.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have any chronic medical conditions? Conditions like diabetes, asthma, and high-blood pressure can affect your pregnancy. You’ll want to make sure you’re on top of these conditions before pregnancy.
- Are you taking any medications or supplements? Make sure to tell your doctor what you’re taking, even if they are herbs or over the counter medications. They will be able to weigh in on whether there are any health risks or side effects related to pregnancy.
- Are you at risk for a sexually transmitted disease? Your doctor will likely test for this, but make sure to tell them if you’re experiencing any symptoms or think you may have been exposed. STDs can have negative effects on you and your baby’s health.
- What type of birth control have you been using? After using certain long-term types of birth control, it may take your body longer to recalibrate and get ready to conceive. Talking to your doctor will equip you with helpful information about your specific situation.
Also, ask your partner and your families if you have a history of any specific medical conditions. Certain medical conditions like cystic fibrosis or birth defects can be passed down genetically.
Gaining information from your families will help you and your doctor to identify any potential health risks. Check out this helpful Family Health History Form to get you started.
- Visit the Doctor for a Pre-Pregnancy Check-up
Even if you feel healthy and ready for pregnancy, visit your healthcare provider before you get pregnant for a full check-up. You’ll get up to date on your vaccinations, pap smear — one less thing to do during pregnancy! — and breast check.
Your provider will discuss your current health, your health history, and your family’s health history. This is so important, because following their medical advice and getting treatment for long-term health conditions can help to stabilize your body before you get pregnant. This will help create a healthier pregnancy for both you and your baby.
Plus, you’ll be able to get clarity and answers to your fertility and pregnancy questions.
Pro Tip: Try to meet with the healthcare provider that you’d like to see throughout your pregnancy. This will allow you to start building a strong relationship with this essential member of your birth team!
- Eat Well as You Plan for Pregnancy
One of the first things to do when preparing for pregnancy is to focus on eating nutrient dense foods. The healthier you are before getting pregnant, the easier it will be to become pregnant and maintain a healthy internal environment for your baby. And eating a well-balanced diet will ensure that your baby has all the vitamins and nutrients they need right from the very start!
Cleaning up your diet will help you to maintain or reach a healthy weight. This has advantages for your pregnancy because being overweight can lead to problems in pregnancy like high blood pressure, diabetes, miscarriage, birth defects, or needing a cesarean birth (C-section). And being underweight is also problematic with the obvious consequence of baby not getting the nutrients they need to grow and thrive and may also set them up for health problems many years down the line (obesity, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, etc.).
But avoid extreme diets. This can actually be harmful to your body. With so many diet fads out there, it can be challenging to know what’s right for your pre-pregnancy body. If you have any questions or concerns about starting a particular diet, we are here to guide you in our “greening the womb process.”
So where do you start? When preparing for pregnancy, your diet should be rich in the right nutrients. (Check out this helpful article to get you started on the blog.) Your body actually needs approximately 40 different micronutrients to support your optimal fertility and reproduction (Chris Kresser)!
It’s no wonder that nutrient deficiencies are widespread, even in highly developed countries like the U.S., where (Oregon State University):
- 100% of people don’t get enough potassium
- 94% don’t get enough vitamin D
- 92% don’t get enough choline
- 89% don’t get enough vitamin E
- 67% don’t get enough vitamin K
How do you ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need? Start by keeping it simple (Center for Disease Control & Prevention):
- Emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains
- Includes a variety of protein foods such as lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, nuts, and seeds.
- Limit trans fats, processed foods and sugars (other than from fruits)
- Eat smaller meals to avoid reflux and discomfort after meals
- Drink lots of filtered water and/or herbal teas — 8 glasses a day (Mayo Clinic)
Aim to eat three well-balanced meals per day with two healthy snacks. Some of our favorite snacks are:
- Hummus and veggies
- Almond butter and apples
- Full fat plain yogurt topped with fresh berries
- Toasted pumpkin seeds and carrot sticks
There are tons of delicious snack ideas out there! Listen to your body — it’ll often tell you what it needs!
- Take a Prenatal Vitamin
Even if you’re eating a well-balanced diet, it can be challenging to get all the right vitamins and nutrients that your body needs each and every day. Plus, your baby will need certain vitamins — like folate and iron — in the first couple weeks after conception.
- Folate helps with healthy neural tube formation, adequate birth weight, and proper development of the face and heart (Chris Kresser.com)
- Iron supports the development of the placenta and fetus. Iron will also help prevent your baby from developing anemia.
Ideally, you should begin taking a high quality prenatal vitamin at least 3 months before you become pregnant. But it’s never too late to start! Prenatal vitamins are available over the counter in almost every pharmacy and grocery store.
Which prenatal vitamin is best? Look for a prenatal vitamin with methylated folate (MTHF) — not the same as folic acid! — and B vitamins.
- Preparing for Pregnancy Through Exercise
Pregnancy isn’t the best time to start up a new exercise routine. The best time is months before you conceive! Regular physical activity helps in so many ways to prepare for the body changes associated with pregnancy.
- Reduces your risk and baby’s risk of certain health conditions during pregnancy and beyond.
- Decreases your stress.
- Helps you sleep better at night.
- Supports you reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
If you haven’t been exercising regularly, use pregnancy as your motivation to begin. Don’t worry if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised or if it’s your first time working out altogether.
- If you haven’t exercised in a while: Start with achievable goals like 10 minutes of physical activity per day. Gradually increase to 15 minutes, and then 20, and then 30.
- If you’ve been exercising already: Aim for 30 minutes of activity, five days a week. (American Pregnancy Association). Most likely, you can continue exercising in the same way as prior to pregnancy. But if you’re not sure if an activity is safe, talk to your healthcare provider.
Brisk walking is a great exercise for beginners. Other great choices include: swimming, low-impact aerobics, and cycling (even on a stationary bike).
Listen to your body when you are exercising and watch for signs of a problem. Stop exercising and contact your health care provider if you experience (Mayo Clinic):
- Vaginal bleeding
- Increased shortness of breath before you start exercising
- Chest pain
- Painful uterine contractions that continue after rest
- Fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina
- Calf pain or swelling
- Muscle weakness affecting balance
These symptoms could worsen over time and lead to more health problems if you don’t take note of them quickly!
- Rest & Reduce Stress
We all experience stress at certain times in our life, but chronic stress may make it difficult to conceive and causes problems during pregnancy and for a growing baby. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to manage stress before you get pregnant.
The first step? Find the sources of stress in your life, taking time to look for the root cause. This might be a difficult workload at your job, a challenging relationship with your boss or a friend, or a challenging dynamic at home.
Next, take action to reduce these sources of stress. Does that mean making adjustments at work or having a conversation to resolve a conflict with your partner? Better to identify and resolve these challenges now than letting them fester and potentially contribute to health problems during your pregnancy.
Being active, eating healthy and getting plenty of sleep go a long way toward lowering stress. The following stress-reducing activities can also support your mental and physical health. Here are some helpful activities to try:
- Practice yoga
- Spend time in nature
- Take an epsom salts bath
- Treat yourself to a massage
You may also enjoy trying out certain relaxation techniques like:
- Meditation: Find your inner peace.
- Breathing exercises: Try using your breath to minimize stress.
- Visualization exercises: Shift your focus to calming and peaceful images.
- Journaling: Write to free your mind.
These activities can help lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and release healthy hormones to help you relax. See what works best for you!
- Foster Your Mental Health
If you are taking steps to exercise AND rest and reduce stress, these will definitely benefit your mental health in addition to supporting you physically. Your mental health is influenced not only by all the things we’ve mentioned above (nutrition, exercise, sleep) but also how you think, feel, and cope with life’s everyday challenges. And to be at your best, you need to feel good about your life and value yourself.
That’s why it’s so important to prioritize spending time doing activities that you enjoy. This could be catching up with a friend, starting a new art project, gardening or taking a drive to the beach. Activities that bring you joy will help you feel like the best version of your self.
It’s ok to feel worried, anxious, sad, or stressed sometimes. But if these feelings don’t go away and they start to interfere with your daily life…don’t be afraid to seek out help. As a starting point, this could simply mean talking with your partner, family, or friends to process your emotions.
Professional support is also an option if some initial chats with friends or relatives don’t resolve your worries. Talking with a therapist can provide you with practical advice and treatment options if needed.
- Reduce Unhealthy Lifestyle Behaviors Pre-Pregnancy
If you currently smoke, drink alcohol or do drugs…Now is the time to quit! These can make it more difficult to become pregnant and can even lead to higher chances of miscarriage.
These substances also have negative effects on you and your baby’s health during pregnancy:
- Smoking: Can lead to lower birth weights, cause problems for your baby later in life, and make it harder for you to recover during the postpartum period.
- Drinking alcohol: Can harm your baby while they’re growing in the womb leading to life-long problems like intellectual disability, behavioral issues, learning problems and facial and heart defects.
- Doing drugs: Can likewise be dangerous for you and have long-term health consequences for baby.
If you need help quitting smoking, drinking, or doing drugs, talk to your healthcare provider.
- Protect Your Pre-Pregnancy Environment
It’s a good idea to avoid harmful chemicals, environmental contaminants, and other toxic substances at home and at work. Extended exposure can make it difficult to become pregnant. And even small exposures can have lasting effects on your baby during pregnancy.
Some easy steps to follow:
- Use green cleaning products at home.
- Stop using scented candles, air fresheners or other perfumed products (including perfume!).
- Don’t clean any cat boxes.
- Avoid paint fumes, synthetic bug spray, and dry cleaning chemicals.
- If you work with chemicals or commercial cleaning products, talk to your boss about changing job duties before and during pregnancy.
Ready to Set Yourself Up for a Healthy Pregnancy?
It’s never too early — or too late! – to start getting ready for pregnancy. If you’re planning to get pregnant in the near future, your lifestyle choices and environment can have a direct impact on your pregnancy.
Following these steps will help prepare your body for pregnancy and give you a better chance of having a healthy baby. But if you have questions or want to learn more about how you can get your body ready for pregnancy, we’d love to be a part of your pre-pregnancy journey!
Call our offices to learn more about our preconception care and greening the womb process (More information on that here).
Contact our San Francisco offices today at 415-826-1701.