When you’re trying to conceive, much of the focus is understandably on tracking when you’re ovulating and when to have sex. While these things are important for a successful pregnancy, there are other factors that can optimize fertility while also preparing you and your partner for growing a family.
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Optimizing your existing health is a huge topic of conversation during preconception counseling, says OBGYN Melanie Smith, MD. Before conceiving, commit to improving your health in the following areas:
- Quit smoking
Both partners – but especially mom – should quit smoking. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to all sorts of problems for your child, like low-birth weight, preterm delivery, lung conditions, asthma, learning disabilities, physical development issues and even death. And still, 12 to 20 percent of pregnant women smoke, according to the American Pregnancy Association, and more than 1,000 babies die every year in the U.S. because their mothers smoked during pregnancy.
Smoking can also cause problems for fertility. Women who smoke are more likely to be infertile, and some studies show that men who smoke have poorer sperm quality than men who don’t.
- Cut back on alcohol
Drinking during pregnancy can cause many issues, like miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal alcohol syndrome and physical, intellectual, behavioral or learning disabilities. But should you cut back when you’re trying to conceive? Definitely, says Smith.
The first few weeks of pregnancy (yes, even those four to six weeks you may not know you’re pregnant) are crucial for a baby’s development. With so much of the development happening, it’s no surprise that alcohol can interfere.
- Reduce your caffeine intake
Some caffeine during pregnancy is okay, but if you’re a three cups of coffee kind of person, you’ll want to start cutting back. Experts recommend consuming less than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day when you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, which is about a 12-ounce cup of coffee.
A small study published in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Fertility and Sterility journal studied 344 couples, and concluded that women who had more than two caffeinated drinks per day while pregnant had a 74 percent higher risk of miscarriage than those who drank less caffeine. And, when their significant others had more than two caffeinated drinks per day, there was also an increased risk of miscarriage.
According to American Society for Reproductive Medicine, it’s better to take precaution and limit your overall caffeine consumption to one or two beverages per day.
- Maintain a healthy weight and evaluate your exercise plan
Keeping your weight and exercise regimen in check is great for your overall health, but it’s especially important if you want to start a family.
While it’s important to find a workout routine that works for you, experts caution against working out too hard. Reason being? There may be a relationship between strenuous exercise and ovulation issues. On the flip side, too little exercise may be associated with obesity, which may cause anovulation (a menstrual cycle without ovulation) and according to one study, may double the time it takes to conceive.
The bottom line? Exercise and weight recommendations vary from person to person. Talk with your doctor about what’s best for you and your partner.
- Start taking a prenatal supplement
Taking prenatal vitamins is a must during pregnancy, but you’ll want to consider getting a head start. Taking at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily, a main ingredient in all prenatal vitamins, can help lower the risk of neural tube defects in babies when women take them before conception. It’s best to start taking them at least one month before trying to conceive.
- Make sure chronic conditions are in check
Staying healthy is important no matter what stage of life you’re in, but before you start a family, you’ll want to make sure you’re properly managing chronic conditions.
If you have one of these conditions, talk to you doctor before trying to conceive, so you can learn the safest treatment options for starting a family:
- Thyroid disorders
- Blood clotting disorders
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Seizure disorders
- Eating disorders
- Congenital heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Aortic stenosis
- Prepare for your body to change
It’s no surprise that pregnancy changes your body, and while you’ll never be able to know exactly how your body will handle carrying a baby, you’ll want to be mentally prepared for the changes.
“Pregnancy is one of the most beautiful things in the world but it does take a toll on the body – and it's not all a bed of roses,” says Smith. “I call them the pregnancy taxes – you have to pay your taxes and some people have to pay more taxes than others.”
Here are some of the changes or “taxes” you might experience while pregnant:
- Acid reflux or heartburn
- Sleeping problems
- Vaginal or pelvic pressure
- Ankle swelling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain with walking
- Varicose veins
“I think a lot of people are surprised at the level of discomfort that you can have during pregnancy and that it's a normal part of the process,” says Smith. “It's a beautiful discomfort but discomfort nonetheless.” But Smith thinks “most women forget about the discomfort as soon as they see their beautiful baby.”
- Ensure you’re up to date with all of your screenings and vaccinations
You and your significant other should be up to date on health screenings and check-ups. You should also schedule a preconception exam with your OBGYN – they can evaluate test results and answer any questions you might have about conception.
Smith says it’s also important that your doctors check to see if you’ve had tuberculosis or if you’re a carrier for some of the genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease. These conditions can contribute to pregnancy complications and may even prevent you from getting pregnant to begin with.
- Spend time together as a couple
Having a child is one of the best parts of many peoples’ lives, but newborns, and kids in general, will take up a lot of your time.
Use the time you have while you’re trying to conceive to connect with your partner. Take a trip, be spontaneous and enjoy your life together while it’s the two of you. Remember that the road to conception may be long and sometimes rocky, but starting a family can be exciting and extremely rewarding. While easier said than done, try to be patient and savor the time with your significant other.