Tips for good health before pregnancy (preconception)
You may be aware of how professional athletes train their bodies for game day. They practice, lift weights, eat well, stretch and take care of their bodies. Similarly, did you know it’s important to train your body for a healthy pregnancy? It’s important to get your body strong, eat well and educate yourself on what to expect. Your future self (and future baby) will thank you for the good work you put in to gear up for the big changes ahead.
Planning for pregnancy will look a little different for everyone, but there are common tips and recommendations to help increase your chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy.
Getting your body baby-ready
You might have an idea of what it takes to be healthy — things like maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet, staying away from tobacco. All of those things are even more important when you’re getting your body ready to grow life. In fact, there’s even more to be aware of. The stronger your body is before baby, the greater chance for a smooth, healthy pregnancy. Here are some things to keep in mind before you try to get pregnant:1
Being overweight or underweight can make it harder to get pregnant and may increase risks in pregnancy. If you’re underweight (body mass index (BMI) of 18.4 or lower), your body could stop making estrogen, which could lead to irregular menstrual cycles. That can make it more difficult to plan ovulation. Plus, you could stop getting your period all together. If you’re overweight (BMI of 26 or higher), your body may end up getting too much natural estrogen (ovaries make estrogen and fat cells make estrogen). Too much may interfere with ovulation and reduce your fertility, and it may also increase the risk of pregnancy complications. 2, 3
Finding a regular workout routine that fits your lifestyle will help get your body in shape for pregnancy. Plus, a strong, healthy body makes a stable home for a growing fetus. Try getting about 2.5 hours of moderate exercise and 2 sessions of strength training each week. Consider things like running, yoga, indoor cycling, swimming — or even gardening and housework. Anything that gets your heart rate pumping counts. (Dancing around in your living room counts too.)4
This might be easier said than done, but you’ll want to focus on eating whole foods. (That means try to skip processed, convenient temptations, like cookies, crackers and frozen meals.) Pile your plate with fruits and veggies, limit your refined sugar, cut back on your cups of coffee and eat three complete meals each day.5
There are a few key vitamins and minerals that play a crucial role in getting your body ready to develop a healthy fetus, like folic acid (vitamin B9) and iron. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges all women of reproductive age to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day, in addition to consuming food with folate from a varied diet, to help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.6 Iron helps your body make more blood to carry oxygen to your growing baby. It’s best to get these nutrients from food sources (think leafy greens, beans, lentils), but supplements (like a prenatal vitamin) is also a great way to guarantee you’re getting enough of the good stuff. Omega-3 fatty acids is another one to add to your checklist. It can help regulate ovulation-inducing hormones and increase blood flow to your reproductive organs. Try to get this entirely from food sources, like nuts, seeds and seafood.7, 8
These are just a few ways to help get your body physically ready for pregnancy. There’s a lot more information out there. And because every woman is different, your doctor may have special recommendations based on your health, age, family history and more. If you’re planning to get pregnant soon, visit your primary care provider (the doctor or provider you might see for your yearly physical) or your gynecologist (OB/gyn). At your preconception appointment, you’ll discuss many pre-pregnancy topics with your doctor to make sure you’ve got the knowledge and resources for getting yourself in shape to create life.
Reducing your risk of complications
Preparing your body for pregnancy goes beyond exercise and diet. Here’s a list of things you can do to help increase your chances of getting pregnant and reduce risk of complications.
- Be aware of chemicals and contaminants: It’s important to be on the lookout for and avoid harmful chemicals and contaminants. Consider the products you buy, products you use on your skin and hair, food you eat and exposure to things like pesticides, bug spray, radiation and lead. Certain metals in seafood can be harmful to a growing baby and it's not a good thing to have stored in your system when you’re trying to get pregnant. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends safely limiting your amount of certain seafood, it may be best to simply stay away from it for a few months.8
- Quit harmful habits: Tobacco, marijuana, alcohol and other drugs can cause serious birth defects. Tobacco can lower your ability to get pregnant and actually increase your risk for miscarriage. Even secondhand smoke can put your new baby at risk for serious stuff (like sudden infant death syndrome, weak lungs and other health issues). It’s smart to stop using tobacco and stay away from harmful substances (including secondhand smoke)9 and avoid any excessive alcohol use10 while you’re trying to get pregnant and throughout your pregnancy.
- Reduce stress: If you’re stressed, your body might know it’s not a good time to have a baby. It’s actually one way your body may protect itself. Stress hormones can confuse the signals between your brain and ovaries, making it harder to get pregnant. Pay attention to how your body is feeling. If you’re feeling stress, maybe try meditating, yoga, journaling or joining a support group with other women just like you.11
When to see your doctor
Did you know a baby’s main organs develop within the first 8 weeks? It’s important to have your mental and physical health in shape before then so you can make sure your body is ready to be your baby’s home for the next 9 months. It may be a good idea to schedule a preconception (pregnancy care) appointment with your preferred provider when you decide it’s time to start trying to get pregnant. You’ll be able to prepare by talking through topics like diet, lifestyle, family history, medicines you’re taking and anything else that might impact your future pregnancy.12