Pregnancy is a great motivator for embracing a healthy lifestyle. Most expectant mums are aware of the benefits of staying active, healthy eating for two and ditching alcohol, caffeine and nicotine when they are pregnant.
But have you thought about lifestyle changes BEFORE you become pregnant?
As women and men rarely talk to their doctor or other health professional before they start trying for a baby there is a low level of awareness about what you can do before you conceive to reduce risks to the pregnancy and baby and increase your chance of conception.
The weight, diet and health of potential parents before conception can have profound implications for the safety of the pregnancy, and the growth, development and long-term health of their children.
Here’s a few facts you should be aware of:
Folic acid should ideally be taken 2 months before conception to build the level of the vitamin up in the body to give maximum protection. As 1 out of 3 women can get pregnant within a month, waiting until stopping contraception to take folic acid means you could be at risk of inadequate protection from neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Two women a week give birth to a baby affected by a neural tube defect that requires intensive lifelong medical care.
Folic acid occurs naturally in dark leafy greens, broccoli and fruit, especially oranges and grapefruits. Asparagus is a real winner, with the highest folic acid content of any vegetable. Taking a supplement will ensure you are well prepared for pregnancy.
Being overweight before and during pregnancy increases the risk of potentially dangerous pregnancy conditions, such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. And it’s not just YOUR weight you should be aware of, having a high BMI can also affect the quality and quantity of a man’s sperm.
Regular exercise and eating a nutritious pregnancy diet will help you to manage a healthy weight gain during pregnancy but if you’re planning a baby don’t wait until after conception to start considering your weight, it’s much better to lose those excess pounds before you become pregnant.
Having a BMI over 30 means women may have less choices on where to give birth as they are more likely to need an instrumental delivery (ventouse or forceps).
Giving birth is a physical challenge and an active pregnancy will help you to prepare for labour. Adopting an active lifestyle and aiming for a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise every week whilst you’re trying to conceive will establish a pattern of activity that you can continue throughout your pregnancy.
Two thirds of maternal deaths happen in those with pre-existing mental health problems. Exercise releases feel good endorphins that will boost your mood and research has shown that regular yoga practise can help when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Baby charity Tommy’s provides health information to parents, believing that it is unacceptable that one in four women lose a baby during pregnancy and birth. They fund research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth and have recently launched a campaign to encourage women to make positive lifestyle choices pre-conception.
Tommy’s have also produced a useful digital tool to help women plan for pregnancy, giving you personalised information about how to improve your chances of conceiving a baby and having a risk-free pregnancy. The tool is available at www.tommys.org/planningforpregnancy
Easy to navigate, the tool was produced in partnership with Clearblue, the UCL Institute for Women’s Health, NHS, the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, Public Health England and the Royal College of General Practitioners and has already been used by over 210,000 women since it launched in 2018.