Preparing your body for getting pregnant will help you optimize your chances of conceiving sooner and promote a healthy pregnancy and baby.
In this article we will be covering everything you can do to prepare your body, from when you should begin taking a prenatal vitamin through to everything you should be avoiding.
Taking a prenatal vitamin is essential in providing your body with the right nutrients to optimize conception and pregnancy.
Prenatal vitamins are multi-vitamins that have been designed to support your nutrition when trying to conceive. They contain key nutrients such as Folic Acid, Iron, Vitamin B12, Calcium and Vitamin D. Some also contain Omega 3.
Why it's important to take prenatal vitamins
Taking a prenatal vitamin with enough folic acid reduces the risk of you baby developing a neural tube defect (NTD). Folic acid (folate) helps with the development of your baby's brain, spine and skull in the early weeks of pregnancy, so it's important you are taking it before you conceive (more on that later).
Prenatal vitamins help ensure that your body has adequate nutrients before conception, this allows your baby to have all the nutrients it requires, available right from the point of conception.
Did you know that all women should begin taking prenatal vitamins for at least three months before trying to conceive? We asked 32,098 women who are trying to conceive if they were already taking a prenatal vitamin and only 10,010 said yes. that's only 31%.
Learn more about prenatal vitamins and what to look for when purchasing them.
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Eating the right foods
Your body needs nutrients to function properly. For example, zinc helps with cell division and progesterone production while vitamin C is concentrated in the follicle after the egg is released. If you want to increase your chances of conceiving, be sure you are eating the right foods.
Dr Tash: Fast Track Your Pregnancy With Food
Here are nine foods you should eat when you are trying to conceive.
You should be trying to get at least five servings of vegetables each and every day. Spinach, kale and Swiss chard are especially high in nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, and the list goes on. These super foods provide your body with an enormous hit of healthy minerals that can not only improve ovulation, but can also naturally increase your libido. While you may find these nutrients in a prenatal vitamin it is always better to get them directly from food whenever possible. Prenatal vitamins do however provide a good backup where your diet alone may be insufficient. Kale is a great one because it is rich in folate - a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifda. One cup of cooked kale will also provide you with 10% of your daily calcium needs; 3 grams of fiber, more than all of the vitamins A, C and K that you need in a day.
Whole grains are packed with fiber and vitamins. Fiber is important for many reasons, but when it comes to fertility, it is instrumental in ridding the body of excess hormones and keeping the blood sugar balanced. Avoid any overly processed or refined grains and stick to whole wheat or sprouted breads and pastas. Quinoa and brown rice are also great sources of whole grains.
Fish or fish oil supplements
Omega-3 fatty acids help regulate hormones in the body, which can be instrumental when it is time to get pregnant. Omega-3 fatty acids also help to increase the quality of cervical mucus. If you need more of a reason to consume these good fats, omega 3s also work to improve the overall health of the uterus. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may consume flaxseed, walnuts or flaxseed oil to get similar benefits.
Dark chocolate is one of those "good fats" that also happens to be excellent for fertility. Chocolate contains flavonoids and arginine, and both can elevate your mood and promote blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. Oh, and it also has an amazingly delicious flavor! Just be sure that your chocolate does not contain excessive fillers and additives. If you have more of that stuff, you can only have less of the good stuff. Try for 60% dark or higher.
Water plays a key role in transporting hormones and in developing follicles. It can also help prevent your cervical mucus from becoming too thick. Thicker cervical mucus makes it more difficult for sperm to make it to the egg. Experts recommend drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. If you are having trouble getting that much, try herbal tea or naturally flavored waters. Experiment with adding different fruits to your water to find a flavor that you enjoy.
Did you know that avocado is really a fruit? Indeed, your beloved guacamole is really a fruit salad. All types of fruits contain a variety of healthy nutrients that will assist with conception and pregnancy, but avocados stand out because they are also rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and folate, which are vital for your baby's development. Avocados also assist your body to absorb the nutrients from fat-soluble fiber sources like vegetables. High in potassium and calcium, avocados can also reduce leg cramps during pregnancy. An added bonus is the positive impact avocados have on lowering blood cholesterol and maintaining blood sugar levels.
You may think of prunes as a grandma's snack, but when you are trying to conceive, you may want to adjust your thinking. Prunes are packed with about 3 grams of fiber per serving, so they are little powerhouses that keep your digestive system running smoothly. If you're already taking a prenatal, that extra iron may be blockings things up in an uncomfortable way. A fiber-rich diet may also help prevent preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related condition of high blood pressure. Try to get at least 25 grams of fiber each day.
Sweet potatoes contain pigments that are converted to vitamin A in your body. In fact, that is exactly what we are seeing when we look at a sweet potato with its beautiful orange color. It can be dangerous to consume too much vitamin A from supplements, but this is a different kind. Food sources of vitamin A are only converted on an as-need basis, so enjoy as many sweet potatoes as you like.
Beans are good for your heart and they are also good for your baby. Navy, lentil, black, kidney, pinto... the options seem endless. However, if you are not a fan of prunes, you will want to pay attention here. Beans contain the most fiber and protein of all of the vegetables. It is especially important to have a good source of protein if you are vegetarian, and beans fit the bill. For the record, beans are also great sources of iron, calcium and zinc, which are all important for a healthy pregnancy.
Maintain a balanced diet
Forming important eating habits now, such as consuming healthy and well-balanced meals, will help set you and your baby on the course to a healthy pregnancy.
Aim to have three main meals a day with 2-3 snacks in between meals. This helps prevent you getting hungry, the key to avoid getting over hungry is to not let more than 4 hours pass between eating.
About 90% of the chemicals, pesticides and hormones we consume come from our diet. Statistics such as this one beg the question: Does eating organic foods affect fertility? The answer is: yes, it certainly can, but this is not a black and white issue. Eating organic foods will not make an infertile person, fertile. Similarly, only eating foods that are conventionally grown will not necessarily make you infertile. It is important to review the facts before coming to any hard and fast conclusions.
Organic foods and fertility
Pesticides, chemicals and hormones that are found in food can disrupt the body's natural hormonal balance, and this has the ability to cause infertility or lead to miscarriage. While there is no magic-bullet treatment for infertility, switching to organic foods is a means of removing excess toxins from your body and enhancing your fertility (more on toxins later). This is why many nutritionists recommend eating organic foods when trying to conceive.
How to save on organic produce
It can be expensive to consume a diet filled with organic produce and meat from organically-raised livestock. There are ways to save on organic produce, and on your overall shopping bill.
Shop at local farms and farmers' markets - Any organic foods you may find in the grocery store have been certified by the USDA. You will also notice that they come with a higher price tag than conventionally-grown produce. There are two reasons for this. First, organic farming practices simply cost more than conventional farming practices. Second, the process of being certified by the USDA can also be expensive. It can be so cost prohibitive that some smaller farmers simply skip the process. You may find that produce at the local farm or farmers' market is grown organically even though it is not labeled as such. Ask questions.
Buy selectively - If you cannot afford to buy everything organic, take a look at the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list. This list ranks the top 48 foods that are most heavily sprayed with pesticides. If possible, buy as many of these foods in organic versions as your budget will allow. Currently, the Dirty Dozen includes, in order of most to least toxic, apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas and potatoes.
Although there is much speculation about how organic foods impact fertility, it is not a bad idea to avoid foods that have been sprayed with pesticides and harmful chemicals. If you would not willingly consume bug spray, and if the thought of spraying it on your food before you eat it sounds crazy, you may want to start eating more organic foods.
Soy products and fertility
There is a lot of misinformation being circulated about the relationship between soy, fertility and hormones, so it is high time we set the record straight. After all, it is important to know if you should avoid this so-called wonder bean while trying to conceive. And it is not as easy as you may think to avoid soy - even for non-vegetarians. Soy is an ingredient in many of the foods we eat.
How does soy impact fertility?
Many people are concerned that soy may hinder reproductive health, but studies have shown that soy does not have a negative impact on reproduction.
A 2001 Clinical Science study found that consuming soy does not have a negative impact on the male reproductive system. Furthermore, a 2002 study by Kurzer, MS, published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consuming soy does not hinder fertility in men or pre-menopausal women. Furthermore, a 2001 Journal of the American Medical Association study by Brian L. Strom, MD, et al. found no difference in the reproductive health of adults who were fed a soy formula as babies when compared to those who were fed a cow's-milk-based formula.
Soy and uterine fibroids
What you may not have heard about soy is that it may actually boost your fertility. Soy products may reduce a woman's risk of developing uterine fibroids, or knots of muscle tissue that form within the thin layer of muscle that lies beneath the uterine lining. Nagata, Takatsuka. Kawakami1 and Shimizu (2001) conducted a study on Japanese women which was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This study found that the more soy women ate, the less likely they were to need a hysterectomy.
So, contrary to popular belief, soy is not bad for your reproductive health and consuming soy products will not hinder fertility.
If you still believe that soy may have a negative impact on fertility, or if you want to err on the side of caution, you may choose to avoid soy products altogether. This can be perfectly healthy too, but it may not be as easy as you may think. Avoiding soy is more complex than simply not eating tofu or tempeh. Soy is found in a large number of processed foods. Just look at the labels. It is also used in feed for livestock, so the animal products you consume may have been fed on soy. Avoiding soy may mean eating a diet of grass-fed beef and organic vegetables without any processed foods at all.
What to avoid
Learn what to avoid before getting pregnant. There are things that are not good for your body, and those same things are not good for a developing baby when you do get pregnant, so it is a good idea to avoid these things now, before you even try to conceive.
Nutritional experts have trouble agreeing on much, but one thing they all seem to be on the same page about is avoiding soda - especially when you are trying to conceive or pregnant. Soda is very high in sugar, so drinking it will cause blood sugar spikes that can have a negative impact on fertility. It is also a great idea to eliminate fruit juice for the same reason. As you are reading labels, try to also keep away from trans fats as these too have been linked to infertility.
High mercury fish
FDA guidelines state that pregnant women should consume fewer than 12 ounces of low-mercury fish each week, and high mercury fish should be avoided at all costs. If you must enjoy some of the high-mercury fish, keep it to three 6-ounce servings per month. This means avoiding or severely limiting tuna, halibut and swordfish.
If you are trying to conceive, cutting back on alcohol consumption is a good idea. While a glass of wine at dinner is not going to have a major impact on your fertility, excessive alcohol intake on the other hand may be linked to fertility problems in both men and women. Gradually reducing your intake in the months before you start trying to conceive can make it much easier to quick the habit altogether once you do get pregnant.
Cigarettes and recreational drugs
Smoking cigarettes can negatively impact fertility for men and women. In women, smoking has an impact on how receptive a woman's uterus is to the egg, and in men, smoking cigarettes may reduce sperm count. The same holds true for many recreational drugs, so it is best to avoid them when you are trying to get pregnant.
There are a plethora of products on the market claiming to be miracle cures for a range of medical issues and when trying to conceive, but many are usually a waste of money and can also be dangerous. Starting a new medicine without speaking to a qualified health professional, such as your doctor or a pharmacist can put your health at serious risk.
NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory drugs)
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs - known as NSAIDs, include common household drugs like Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Advil) and Acetaminophen. NSAIDs are a group of drugs that relieve inflammation.
It's important to know how NSAIDs work so you can understand their effect on conception. NSAIDs block the production of certain chemicals in your body, called Prostaglandins. With less Prostaglandins, there is less inflammation and less pain. However, many of these Prostaglandins provide important functions. Although the mechanism remains unclear, blocking certain Prostaglandins prevents the follicles in your ovaries from releasing an egg.
Toxins that can affect fertility
Many common household items contain toxins that have been linked to fertility issues. Even small amounts of exposure to certain chemicals could cause problems on your reproductive system, and the three that follow are among the worst offenders.
Non-stick pan coatings
Non-stick chemicals can leach into food if/when the pan's enamel becomes scratched. A number of studies, as cited in Kellyn Betts's 2007 Environmental Health Perspective review found that perfluoroalkyl acids, chemicals found in non-stick pans, can cause many health and fertility issues, and they may also cause neonatal death. You may also find these dangerous chemicals in some takeout containers and in microwavable popcorn bags. To avoid it, cook with un-coated stainless steel, cast iron, glass or stoneware.
These chemicals are in the glycol ether family, which means that they are a byproduct of oil production. They are used to manufacture microchips, some prescription drugs and circuit boards. They are also found in carpet cleaners, paints, inkjet cartridges and lithium batteries. Workers in factories where glymes are used have been found to have higher rates of miscarriage. In fact, in 2011 the Environmental Protection Agency released a warning to consumers of the dangers of these chemicals, and also took a tougher stance against the use of this compound in everyday consumer products.
There has been a surge of BPA free products on the market because consumers are beginning to understand the dangers associated with these chemicals. You may know that BPAs are found in canned foods and some plastic containers, but did you know that you will also find them in dust and water? A 2010 Fertility and Sterility study by Victor Y. Fujimoto and colleagues found that women who had high levels of BPA in their blood produced lower quality eggs for their IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatments. BPAs are found in most canned food and some plastic food containers. Avoid canned foods unless they are BPA free, use glass or ceramic containers whenever possible.
While it is more important to avoid these chemicals when you are trying to conceive, it would be a good idea for anyone to avoid these dangerous hormone-disrupting toxins where possible.
How to detoxify your body
Preconception is a great time to rid your body of toxins. Your baby will get all of its nutrition and oxygen through your blood, so you will want your blood to remain as clean as possible to give them the best possible start.
Why you should detoxify?
As mentioned, every day, we are exposed to environmental toxins in the form of pollution; chemicals in our everyday household products; pesticides in our food, and self-inflicted toxins like alcohol and cigarettes.
While your body naturally does a good job of removing these toxins, over exposure makes it more difficult for your body to keep up. Many everyday personal care products contain parabens and triclosans, chemical that have been linked to hormone disruption and cancer. Such chemicals are easily passed on to a child in utero. In fact, a study conducted by a Washington DC - based Environment Working Group (EWG) in collaboration with Commonwealth researchers found 287 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of 10 babies born in US Hospitals in 2004. Of these chemicals, "180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests" (EWG, 2007).
How detoxification works
Detoxification is a process that describes the clearing, neutralizing or transformation of toxins in the body. Detoxing requires you to make important changes to both your diet and lifestyle, particularly in the way of reducing your intake of toxins. This means avoiding refined food, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Since your body will not have to work to remove new toxins, it can get to work on some of the toxic stuff that has accumulated over time.
Tips on how to detoxify before you get pregnant
Start at least three months in advance - Ideally, you should be able to complete your detox before conceiving so that the toxins have time to be cleared.
Set a time frame - Some of the popular cleanses on the market are only meant to be followed for a short period of time. They simply are not healthy or sustainable long term, so if you are following a cleanse or detox regimen be sure not to follow it for longer than recommended. Doing so may starve your body of essential nutrients that you will need for conception and pregnancy.
Limit your diet to organic fruits and vegetables - If you would like to follow a simple cleanse and still get your daily recommended allowance of vitamins and minerals, consume organic fruits and vegetables. Avoid meat, dairy and grains. See above for more info on organic foods.
Drink a lot of water - The amount of water you should drink during a cleanse may vary from person to person and based on your activity level, but you should try to drink enough so that you are urinating every three to four hours.
Start your day with hot water and lemon - Instead of coffee each morning, start your day with hot lemon water. Lemon contains a compound that activates the Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification in the liver.
Get at least 8-hours of sleep each night - The body does a lot of its detoxification work in the early hours of the day and being well-rested will help this natural process take place.
Exercise and achieving your optimal weight
You should be exercising at least 30 minutes each day. This recommendation is from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and supported by many other health organizations.
This does not have to be in one session, it can be over multiple sessions, however 30 minutes is to be considered the minimum, not the maximum. Exercising doesn't have to be a session at the gym, walking, yoga and swimming are all considered as exercising.
Being overweight or underweight
Carrying too much weight can impact your chances of getting pregnant because it can lead to irregular or infrequent ovulation. If you would like to be at your most fertile, try to keep your BMI (body mass index), between 18.5 and 24.9. This is ideal for conception.
Being underweight can also impact your fertility in the same way, so if you are under weight, try to bulk up with healthy calories before trying to conceive. Find out more about achieving your optimal weight if you're underweight.
If you are overweight, try to lose weight before you try to conceive. Just be sure to adopt a healthy diet and avoid any habits that may be harmful for the baby. Remember, soda, fruit juices and trans fats are all bad for you at this time (and possibly any other). Find out more about achieving your optimal weight if you're overweight.
Go for a preconception checkup
Some women don't have the luxury of time to schedule a preconception checkup because pregnancy is unplanned, but as you are planning to conceive, you have the upper hand. You can plan to have the healthiest possible pregnancy with a preconception checkup.
You should go for a preconception checkup a few months before you start trying to conceive. The checkup will help you determine what else you may need to do, to be sure you are physically and emotionally ready.
Questions, questions and more questions...
During your preconception checkup, your practitioner will have a list of questions. These questions may include your gynaecological history, cycle history, birth control history, any previous pregnancies, if you have had any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and medical history.
These questions help your practitioner determine the best course of action, if any.
Pregnancy and your medical history
Certain conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid disease and blood clotting disorders may have an impact on your health during pregnancy, so they should be addressed now. Be sure to tell your practitioner about any allergies and drugs that you may be taking including any vitamins, herbs or supplements.
If you are not already taking a folic acid supplement, your practitioner will likely advise you to start taking at least 400 micrograms each day. If you have had previous pregnancies that resulted in a baby born with spina bifida, a higher dose will be recommended.
Preparing your body for pregnancy is a massive jump in the right direction for increasing your fertility and getting pregnant sooner. Now that you know how to prepare your body for conception, learn how to get pregnant in 2016.
We also recommend you take the Fertility Knowledge Quiz to see how much you have learnt about fertility.