Thinking about getting pregnant? Here’s everything you need to know to have your healthiest pregnancy
The idea of creating a little human may be the best motivator there is to get healthy! And to ensure your healthiest pregnancy, its best to start months before getting pregnant. A woman’s health before and during pregnancy will have a huge impact on the health of her baby. Most women know that they need to take a prenatal with folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, but we now know that there are many other things we can do during pregnancy that have long-term impacts on the health of our children.
By engaging in healthy behaviours and correct supplementation, we can protect a child from things like allergies, eczema, asthma, depression, digestive problems, autoimmune disease, diabetes, heart disease, and even obesity. We can also support better brain development and enhanced cognitive performance. Here are some ways to improve your health from preconception through pregnancy to optimize the health of your future baby.
3-6 MONTHS BEFORE PREGNANCY
A healthy body is a fertile body. So you must make changes in the preconception time period in order to optimize fertility, reduce the risk of miscarriage and set a healthy genetic framework for a future baby. The eggs inside the ovaries take 3 months to mature before ovulation, and this is where we can enhance egg quality, which is the first step in creating a healthy baby. Furthermore, by the time a woman realizes she is pregnant and decides to change her lifestyle, the early weeks of pregnancy are almost over and we can miss this critical time of growth and development.
By starting to make changes 6 months before trying to get pregnant, it ensures that the body is in an optimal state before pregnancy and that the nutritional factors that are key for fertility and fetal development are readily available. The most important things you can do before getting pregnant are:
START TAKING A PRENATAL VITAMIN THAT HAS 400 MCG TO 1 MG OF METHYLATED FOLIC ACID
- This will address any nutrient deficiencies well before pregnancy, so that nutrients are available to ensure proper development of a baby.
- The birth control pill depletes any nutrients that are important in hormonal regulation, fertility, and fetal development. All women on the pill should be correcting these depletions before becoming pregnant.
- We recommend NFH Prenatal SAP
DITCH THE PILL
- Many women experience hormonal symptoms after stopping the pill and this means it can take time to regain fertility after the pill.
- I like to recommend that women have 3 normal menstrual cycles before trying to conceive. This will ensure optimal hormone balance and gives time to address nutrient depletions from the pill.
- If you are stopping the pill, use an alternative form of non-hormonal birth control until ready to conceive.
LIMIT ALCOHOL INTAKE
- It is no surprise that alcohol is dangerous to the developing fetus, but it can also impair fertility. Limit alcohol intake to no more than 4 standard drinks per week.
- Alcohol is also harmful to the liver and depletes many of the B-vitamins. Optimal liver function is necessary for hormonal balance and detoxification, which are critical during preconception.
BOOST YOUR NUTRITION
- If your diet needs tweaking, now’s the time! Be sure to eat high-quality protein, lots of good fats and an abundance of colourful vegetables and fruits to give your body the nutrition it needs to make a baby.
- Avoid processed foods and refined carbohydrates.
- Grab a copy of my free 5-day hormone balancing meal plan to get some ideas of what a preconception diet should look like.
FIND WAYS TO REDUCE STRESS
- Stress can lead to high blood pressure, tense muscles, digestive disorders, delayed ovulation, and the list goes on…
- Our body diverts blood flow away from the reproductive organs, like the uterus and ovaries, and toward the muscles and brain when we are under stress. This can impair fertility, shunts blood flow away from the fetus and increases the risk for preterm labour.
- This is a great time to find stress management strategies that work for you, like journaling, controlled breathing, or meditation.
STRIVE TOWARDS A HEALTHY BODY WEIGHT
- Being obese or overweight has negative outcomes for both mother and child, including infertility, miscarriage risk, preterm labour, risk of obesity in the infant and many associated chronic diseases.
- Healthy weight loss takes time. Weight loss is not ideal once pregnant, so be sure to optimize your weight before then.
CONTINUE OR START TO EXERCISE
- Benefits of exercise before and during pregnancy include backache relief, reduced risk of varicose veins, fewer obstetric interventions, easier labour, prevents constipation, fewer pregnancy complications, less pregnancy-related diabetes, lowers risk of pre-eclampsia, helps to control excess increase in body weight, and helps to relieve stress.
- It is not recommended to start a vigorous exercise program during pregnancy if you were inactive prior to becoming pregnant, so get active before pregnancy to reap the many benefits for you and your baby.
- This one goes without saying, but smoking impairs fertility and has dangerous outcomes for both mom and baby through pregnancy and postpartum.
- Carbon Monoxide affects fetal blood flow and the synthesis of brain DNA.
- Nicotine affects fetal heart rate and reduces the blood flow to the placenta, producing premature or low birth weight babies. This contributes to impaired mental development, short attention span, and hyperactivity.
AVOID ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS
- Many environmental toxins mimic the action of hormones in our body and can be harmful to fetal health.
- A recent study found harmful chemicals in 99% of the 268 pregnant women whose urine they analyzed; among them were organochlorine pesticides, perchlorate, phthalates and cancer-causing compounds found in vehicle exhaust and smoke.
- Some ways to reduce exposure include: buying organic meats, using the clean 15 & dirty dozen for grocery shopping, avoiding plastics, never heating food or liquids in plastic containers, swapping beauty products and cleaning supplies for cleaner alternatives.
MANAGE ANY PRE-EXISTING HEALTH CONDITIONS
- Be sure to manage all pre-existing health conditions before becoming pregnant. This includes menstrual dysfunction, thyroid conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
- Work with your family doctor to ensure you are receiving appropriate treatment for whatever you may be dealing with and ensure any medications you are on are safe during pregnancy.
- This is also a great time to have your nutrient levels assessed, like iron, vitamin D, and B12, to address any nutrient deficiencies before pregnancy.
- During pregnancy, there is no need to be “eating for two”. On average, a woman needs to increase her food intake by about 300 calories a day, which means adding in an extra snack or so.
- Ensure optimal fiber intake to avoid constipation; aim for about 40g per day by adding foods like psyllium, flax and chia.
- Increase your H2O intake to about 3L daily. Hydration is important for supporting amniotic fluid production, breast milk and preventing constipation.
- And you’re going to love me for this one; you do not need to give up your coffee! Caffeine intake should not exceed 300mg.
- Foods to Avoid during Pregnancy
- Raw fish, especially shellfish such as oysters and clams
- Undercooked meat, poultry and seafood
- Hot dogs, deli-meats, refrigerated pâté, meat spreads and refrigerated smoked seafood and fish
- All foods made with raw or lightly cooked eggs, like homemade Caesar dressing
- Unpasteurized and pasteurized soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert, and unpasteurized semi-soft cheeses such as Roquefor or Stilton
- Unpasteurized juices, like unpasteurized apple cider
- Raw sprouts, especially alfalfa sprouts
- All alcohol – there is no known amount of safe alcohol consumption through pregnancy
- I recommend regular physical activity during pregnancy, but if you have been inactive, start low and go slow.
- Exercise through pregnancy can:
- improve your mood and self-image
- help ensure appropriate weight gain
- help you relax and reduce stress
- promote better sleep
- increase your muscle tone, strength, and endurance
- help build your stamina for labour and delivery
- speed up your recovery after labour and delivery
- help increase your energy levels
- To avoid overdoing it, during exercise you should be able to carry on a normal conversation.
- Drink lots of water before, during and after to avoid dehydration and overheating.
- Always listen to your body and if something doesn’t feel right, stop.
- As pregnancy progresses, modifications will be necessary. After about 4 months, modify exercises that require lying on your back so they are performed on your side, or while you are standing or sitting. Lower the intensity of the impact of exercise as time goes on.
- Take home message: exercise, including weight training and cardio, are safe and greatly beneficial throughout pregnancy.
- Recommended Weight Gain through pregnancy based on BMI:
- < 18.5 (underweight) à 28-40 lbs. gain
- 18.5-24.9 (normal weight) à 25-35 lbs. gain
- 25-29.9 (overweight) à 15-25 lbs. gain
- > 30 (obese) à 11-20 lbs. gain
- Prenatal vitamin – A good prenatal should contain 400 mcg-1 mg of methylated-folic acid and a long list of other supportive nutrients required in pregnancy. Ideally, a prenatal should be started 3-6 months before conception, as discussed above, and continued until breastfeeding has stopped. As mentioned, we recommend NFH Prenatal Multivitamin.
- Fish oil – Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. During pregnancy, only DHAis taken up by the placenta and passed onto the fetus. Maternal supplementation with fish oil increases birth weight and gestational length, as well as reducing preterm birth. DHA has been shown to reduce allergies and increase cognitive performance in the infant later in life. Fish oil supplementation is especially important throughout the first and third trimester when the brain and nervous system are developing quickly – look for one with at least 600mg DHA. The NFH high-DHA is what we have found to be the best quality.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D levels should be assessed before pregnancy so that optimal levels can be reached. Vitamin D is essential for bone growth, immune system development and has been shown to reduce asthma, allergies, eczema and type 1 diabetes in babies. Due to the majority of the western world having decreased sun exposure, vitamin D supplementation is recommended through pregnancy. It’s important to find a vitamin D supplements with a high IU dose such as Genestra Brands: D-Mulsion which has 1000 IU per drop.
- Probiotics – Probiotics in pregnancy are shown to play a role in preventing preterm delivery, perinatal infections, gastrointestinal diseases in baby, and atopic disorders, like eczema, allergies, and asthma, during early life. The HMF maternity probiotic is designed specially for pregnant women.
- Phosphatidylcholine – Choline supplementation becomes very important for vegans or women who do not eat a lot of dairy, meat or eggs. The need for choline is greatly increased in pregnant women for optimal fetal development including brain formation and life-long memory function. Thorne Research makes a great Phosphatidylcholine supplement.
- Iron – The fetus will start to store iron through the third trimester to prepare for a diet of breast milk. A baby will take what it needs, but this can leave mom deficient. It is very important to have your ferritin (the storage form of iron) tested before and during pregnancy. If ferritin is low, supplementing with iron should start as soon as possible, otherwise, iron should be supplemented starting after 20 weeks.
- Red raspberry leaf tea – Red raspberry can be started at 34-36 weeks to prepare the uterus and cervix for labour. We love the Traditional Medicinals Red Raspberry leaf tea, and its a great tea to drink to relieve PMS symptoms too!
- Symptoms of pregnancy, like nausea and vomiting, leg cramps, and heartburn may benefit from acupuncture. But it is most useful for labour induction starting at 36 weeks. Studies show that acupuncture in the third trimester can reduce the rates of medical induction by 43% in first-time moms. It also reduces the need for epidurals, emergency C-sections and increases normal vaginal deliveries.
HEALTHY MOM = HEALTHY BABY
By optimizing your health before and during pregnancy, you are giving your baby the best shot at a healthy life! Ideally, pregnancy preparation will begin 6 months before conception to ensure that your body is not only ready for pregnancy but is in its best state. Then, throughout pregnancy, there are many things we can do using dietary, lifestyle and supplemental support to create the healthiest baby possible – the ultimate form of preventative medicine 🙂
To your healthiest pregnancy,