Now that you have decided to have a baby, what can you do to improve your chances of carrying a healthy pregnancy? Here are a few things that can contribute towards a healthier result.
Get a Medical Checkup
Prior to any potential pregnancy, it is always a good idea to book an appointment with your doctor or midwife. Even if you feel healthy and feel that you are ready, your doctor may identify or advise on some changes to increase your chances of an optimum outcome. What to expect…
- Your doctor will typically give you a head-to-toe examination and discuss your current health or any relevant family history. Remember that some health problems in your family can be passed on to your child.
- Your doctor will do some blood work to check your cholesterol, thyroid levels and more. The thyroid regulates your metabolism, and an undiagnosed thyroid disorder can affect your chances of conceiving. Some symptoms of a dysfunctional thyroid are weight changes, mood changes, sensitivity to cold/hot, skin dryness, palpitations, and fatigue.
- Any vaccinations that may have lapsed should also be brought up to date. Chickenpox and rubella are the two main ones to be concerned about, as the vaccines for these two diseases are “live” and should be taken at least 3 months prior to any pregnancy.
- Long-term health problems such as asthma or diabetes should be stabilized before a pregnancy is attempted.
It is recommended that birth control pills or pregnancy prevention implants, be stopped or removed and an alternative method of birth control be practiced for at least 3 months prior to conception. Some long-term hormonal contraceptives may require a few months for the hormonal effects to wear off and for a woman’s normal menstrual cycle to occur. Hormonal contraceptives usually contain estrogen and progesterone which suppress natural ovulation, or prevent implantation, and the effects of these hormones may linger in the body for several months. Some hormonal contraceptives may take 9 months to a year for the reproductive system to fully bounce back.
As the body ages, getting pregnant can be more problematic than for say someone in their twenties. Each month, the average 30-year-old woman has about a 20-25% chance of getting pregnant. A 40-year-old woman has a 5%, (when using her own eggs), and by 44 that number has dropped to close to 0%. However, a woman over the age of 42 can drastically increase her chance of achieving a pregnancy by working with donor eggs. The success rate for conceiving with donor eggs for a woman over the age of 42 years is upwards of 35%, so a 7-fold increase against trying to get pregnant using their own eggs!
Timing of Ovulation
A woman’s cycle begins on the first day of bleeding and not with any spotting that can occur. A cycle can last 21 to 35 days. The best time to achieve a pregnancy is 3-5 days leading up to ovulation and the day of ovulation itself. To accurately pinpoint ovulation, count the first day of your period as day 1 and the day before your next period as the last day. If you have a regular 28-day cycle, you should ovulate around day 14. You best chance of conceiving would be between day 10 and 15. If you have a 30-day cycle, then you probably ovulate around day 16.
- Sperm can live for 3-5 days inside a woman’s body.
- An egg can be fertilized for between 12 and 24 hours after ovulation.
There are numerous ovulation predictor kits available that are easy to use and remarkably accurate at predicting ovulation.
Surprisingly, gum disease is associated with preterm delivery and therefore it is recommended that a dental checkup occurs prior to a pregnancy. Bacteria and buildup of plaque can cause cavities which could lead to infections which are dangerous during a pregnancy. Gum disease has been linked to early birth and low birth weight. So, get checked!
Smoking, Caffeine, Alcohol & Drugs
Smoking, caffeine, alcohol and use of drugs should be avoided prior to a pregnancy and during a pregnancy as they are linked to difficulties in conceiving and increase chance of miscarriage. No one knows the safe level of alcohol consumption during a pregnancy, and it is therefore advised that you stop drinking entirely once you start trying to conceive. Alcohol consumption is also linked to reduced sperm count. In addition, marijuana use is believed to reduce sperm density, motility and increase in the number of abnormal sperm. Women who smoke during a pregnancy are more likely to have a baby of lower birth weight.
Daily caffeine intake should be reduced to below 2 cups (500ml) of coffee or a maximum of 5 cans (2L) of soda that contains caffeine. Although consuming this volume of soda daily is advised against, either due to sugar content or unnatural additives. Higher consumption levels than these are linked to difficulty in achieving a pregnancy as well as an increased chance of miscarriage.
Discuss any prescribed medications and any over-the-counter medications you are taking with your doctor. Most medicines (including over the counter) have risks. Your doctor may recommend medicine changes once she/he knows you intend to attempt a pregnancy. If medicines are not absolutely necessary, it is recommended you avoid taking them.
Maintain or strive for a health body weight and a balanced diet. Being overweight during a pregnancy may increase your chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects. Being underweight during a pregnancy can lead to malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, anemia, growth and developmental issues for the baby, increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners and caffeine.
- Eat foods that are high in protein.
- Eating fish 2-3 times a week is recommended. However, some types of fish may be high in mercury or other toxins which can take up to a year for your body to clear from your blood. Fish thought to contain high mercury levels are swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark and limit your intake of tuna to 1 can (85g) of white tuna per week. In addition, experts recommend that pregnant women avoid raw or undercooked fish.
- Avoid all foods made with raw or lightly cooked egg; unpasteurized soft cheeses, milk, and juices; raw vegetable sprouts and herbal teas.
- Healthy fats like omega-3s are liked to improved sperm count and motility. Therefore, the consumption of salmon, sardines, leafy greens, and walnuts are encouraged when trying to get pregnant.
Vitamins & Folic Acid
Prenatal vitamins are good insurance for you and your future baby. Studies have shown that prenatal vitamins can lower your risk of premature birth and reduce morning sickness. Folic Acid is also important before and during a pregnancy. It may protect your baby from neural tube problems (defects of the spine), that may occur in the first trimester of pregnancy. A dose of around 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid per day, and started 3-6 months prior to achieving a pregnancy, is recommended. Once pregnant your doctor may prescribe prenatal vitamins which contain a higher dose of folic acid. Folic acid, zinc and vitamin C are also recommended for sperm providers, as these nutrients are important for optimal production and quality.
- Remember to consult your doctor on ALL medications you are taking as some prenatal vitamin may contain folic acid and you need to aware of the levels of folic acid you are consuming.
- Be careful not to consume too much vitamin A, D, E and K as these vitamins in high doses than the daily recommended intake can cause birth defects.
Establishing an exercise routine before pregnancy may help you handle the physical changes to your body during a pregnancy and during labor. Most women who are already physically active, can safely maintain their current exercise routine throughout their pregnancy. It is recommended that a pregnant woman try to exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days per week, even if this is just a 30-minute brisk walk. Always consult your doctor on your exercise routine while pregnant.
Finally, be patient. Even the most fertile woman only has at best a 25% chance of conceiving per cycle.
“Whether your pregnancy was meticulously planned, medically coaxed, or happened by surprise, one thing is certain – your life will never be the same.” – Catherine Jones
Making a decision to have a child–it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” – Elizabeth Stone