Ideally, preparing for a healthy pregnancy should commence at least a few months prior to conception.
Prior to attempting conception, it is wise to take stock of your health and check for any issues that may affect a future pregnancy. Key issues to be considered may include:
- Menstrual regularity and health
- Body weight (being either underweight or overweight may influence fertility)
- Thyroid function
- Dietary habits. If you haven’t not already, this is the time to adopt a healthy diet. At the same time, start taking folic acid and iodine, as both these nutrients are needed in the very early stages of pregnancy
- Exercise habits. Regular moderate exercise is recommended for everyone, and mothers-to-be are no exception
- Iron deficiency or anaemia
- Cervical health (see your doctor for a pap smear)
- Sexually transmitted diseases (including chlamydia and herpes)
- Immunity against rubella (German measles)
- Rhesus factor
- The presence of toxoplasmosis infection (which may be transmitted by being in contact with cats, or by eating very rare red meat)
- Alcohol, cigarette and recreational drug use
For the greatest likelihood of conception, intercourse should occur in the days leading up to ovulation. Ovulation occurs approximately two weeks prior to the menstrual period, and can be detected by the presence of slippery vaginal mucus. Young, fertile couples who have intercourse at this stage of the female cycle have around a 20% chance of conceiving in any given month.
If you have not conceived after a year of unprotected sex, ask your healthcare professional to investigate whether any issues are present that may be affecting your fertility. It is important that the fertility of both prospective parents to be assessed.
Note that infertility may involve complex issues and is not suitable for self-treatment. Your chances of a healthy conception and healthy pregnancy are best enhanced by professional, specialist care.
It is recommended that women planning to become pregnant take a broad-spectrum nutritional formula that’s specially formulated to support healthy ovulation, conception and early-stage pregnancy. Choose a product that contains the following key nutrients:
- Antioxidants, which are involved in normal conception and help protect the female reproductive system from free radical damage. Women are more likely to conceive when the fluids surrounding their reproductive organs contain high levels of antioxidants.
- CoQ10, adequate maternal levels of which are associated with healthy early stage pregnancy.
- Iodine, which is required for the early stages of foetal brain development. If a woman is deficient in iodine, it may take up to five months of supplementation to normalise her body stores of this vital nutrient.
- Long chain fatty acids, such as the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Omega-3 fats are often at sub-optimal levels in women’s diets, and levels can be further depleted by the developing foetus. These fatty acids are important for babies’ normal visual and brain development.
- Folic acid, which, when taken prior to conception and in the early stages of pregnancy may reduce the risk of birth defects such as the neural tube defect spina bifida.
- Vitamin C, which may assist normal ovulation and healthy conception.
- Vitamin D3, low levels of which are common during pregnancy and may later affect babies’ bone building.
- Iron, which is also necessary for early foetal brain development. Many women do not consume the recommended intake of iron prior to conception, and any dietary shortfall is exacerbated during pregnancy, as iron stores are diverted to the developing baby.
- Other nutrients that support healthy female reproduction, healthy conception and a healthy baby include betacarotene, biotin, B vitamins, vitamins A and E, and the minerals selenium, magnesium, zinc and copper. Many women have lower than recommended intakes of at least some nutrients prior to falling pregnant.
Once you fall pregnant we recommend you switch to a premium pregnancy formulation containing vitamins, nutrients and essential fatty acids beneficial for both mother and baby.
- Ideally, couples planning to conceive should start by talking to their healthcare professional. Having a check-up can help you plan for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.
- You may be pregnant for several weeks before becoming aware of it, so it is wise to adopt a diet and lifestyle that is suitable for pregnant women during the time that you’re attempting conception. Base your diet on fresh fruit and vegetables (especially leafy greens, which are good sources of folic acid), whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and low-fat dairy foods, and include regular lean serves of protein.
- Fish are a good source of both protein and omega-3 fats, and it is recommended that pregnant women eat 2-3 serves of fish every week. However, some fish contain high levels of mercury, and limited consumption is recommended during pregnancy in order to reduce the developing baby’s exposure to this heavy metal. In particular, limit consumption of billfish (such as swordfish and marlin), shark (flake), orange roughy (sea perch), and catfish. Some women prefer to avoid fish altogether, and instead choose to take an omega-3 supplement that has been mercury-checked for safety during pregnancy.
- Other foods that are best avoided during pregnancy include: Alcohol Raw eggs Raw seafood (e.g. oysters, sushi) Undercooked meat and poultry Soft cheeses and soft-serve ice cream Unpasteurised foods Pre-prepared foods that are not be re-heated prior to consumption, such as sliced meats, pate, and salads
- Minimise your consumption of foods that are high in fat, sugar, or salt, and beverages containing caffeine
- Stop smoking
- Regular exercise should be part of every healthy lifestyle, but if you participate in strenuous activities or sports with a high risk of injury, have a chat with your healthcare professional about whether your exercise regime should be adapted for pregnancy. Activities that are widely recognised as suitable for pregnant women include yoga, Pilates, walking, swimming, and aquarobics. You will need to vary your exercise frequency and intensity as your pregnancy progresses. In the presence of certain complications, your healthcare professional may advise against exercising at all.
- Pelvic floor exercises (sometimes referred to as Kegel exercises) strengthen the muscles that control the passing of urine, and consequently may help to prevent and manage incontinence. Pelvic floor exercises are as simple as repeatedly squeezing the urinary muscles for three seconds at a time. These exercises can be performed at any time of the day, without anyone else being aware that you’re doing them and are recommended before, during and after your pregnancy.
- If you and your partner fail to conceive despite trying for a year, medical investigation is warranted. In both men and women, fertility issues may be symptomatic of serious underlying health problems, so an accurate diagnosis is essential.
- Fertility issues can be stressful for both partners. Talk to your partner about any concerns you have, and if necessary seek professional counselling and support