9 things to do before you think about getting pregnant…

So you’ve decided it’s time to start building a family. You can just abandon contraception and get started, right?
Yes… but here’s a list of things you should really think about before you get pregnant!

Strawberries are healthy

Getting pregnant may seem like a simple idea but before you start planning for a family, there are a few important steps that you need to first consider.

1. Go to the dentist
When you are pregnant there are certain kinds of pain medications as well as medical treatments that aren’t a good idea because they can harm the fetus. Visit your dentist and get a full exam and any treatment you need before you get pregnant.

2. Go see your doctor
Similarly, it’s a good idea to visit your general practitioner and get a general examination – have your moles and freckles checked (your skin may change a lot during pregnancy and it is good to have everything looked at beforehand), have your general health assessed and advise your doctor that you are about to start trying to conceive. With their knowledge of your medical history your doctor may have specific advice for you. For example, certain medications may be inappropriate or dosed differently during pregnancy. Your doctor might also advise you to update your vaccinations and run some blood tests to see that everything seems generally to be in order before you start trying to conceive.

3. Start taking a prenatal vitamin
Folate is a B-Vitamin which is vitally important for the production of DNA. A deficiency of folate in pregnancy has been linked to neural tube defects such as spina bifida and some heart defects. Folate can be found naturally in lots of foods, but to ensure you have healthy levels, it is recommended that women take a folic acid supplement (folic acid is the man-made version of folate) during early pregnancy and for at least one month prior to falling pregnant.

There are lots of folic acid and preconception specific supplements available with other beneficial vitamins and minerals, though your physician may have a preferred brand. Also, note that some women may be advised to take different dosages of folic acid (e.g. women with particular health conditions) – so raise this with your physician at your preconception appointment.

4. Cut out alcohol and limit caffeine
Conceiving naturally isn’t an exact science – you never know when you might get lucky, and drinking alcohol during pregnancy is not advisable as alcohol consumption can cause damage to fetal health and development. The good news is that, according to the American Pregnancy Association, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (which can cause mental retardation, physical and coordination problems and behavioral issues) are 100% preventable by not consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

Recent news reports have made some women confused about whether there is a ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, the confusion around this press has caused the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to issue a statement confirming its position that “no amount of alcohol consumption can be considered safe during pregnancy”.

Like alcohol, caffeine crosses the placenta so mamas to be need to think about their caffeine consumption. Caffeine has been implicated in studies into low birth weight and miscarriage, though this has not been borne out consistently in the research. However, ACOG says that as long as you restrict your caffeine consumption to a ‘moderate’ level, it is okay to continue drinking coffee or tea throughout pregnancy. So what is a moderate level? ACOG advises women to consume no more than 200mg of caffeine per day. According to the Mayo clinic one 8 oz cup of brewed coffee has about 130mg of caffeine while a cup of black tea has up to 70mg of caffeine. Fortunately, for those of you who love some dark chocolate it can stay on the menu (thank goodness!) – there’s only about 13mg of caffeine in a 1 oz serve.

5. Achieve a healthy weight
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “12% of all infertility cases are a result of a woman either weighing too little or too much.” This is largely because estrogen levels, (estrogen is a hormone essential to ovulation), respond to weight. No ovulation, no baby! Additionally, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “there is good evidence that obesity lowers the success rates of IVF”.

When you do conceive, fetuses carried by obese women are at higher risk for a host of complications caused by excess weight (e.g. gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, caesarean delivery). However, being underweight when pregnant is not great either. A fetus need lots of nutrients to grow – vitamins, minerals, and the calories that you provide by eating a healthy diet. Not gaining enough weight during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery or a low birth-weight baby. So ask your physician to assess whether you need a plan to gain or lose some weight before you conceive.

6. Assess your diet and make healthy changes
A healthy diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts and protein can help you achieve regular ovulation. There is also evidence that diet has an impact on sperm quality, so make sure your partner is on board too!

The food you eat provides many of the nutrients for your baby’s growth – both in utero and when you breastfeed – so the earlier you start eating a nutritious diet the better. There are other good reasons for making healthy changes before you conceive; a healthy diet will give you more energy during your pregnancy and those early days with a newborn when you are getting less sleep.  Obviously it is also easier to make changes involving brain and will power when you and your partner are getting a full night’s sleep and have the time to develop healthy new habits.

7. Speak to your hairdresser and nail therapist
If you color your hair or have other treatments in the salon you might want to investigate whether they are safe for use during pregnancy. Some chemicals used in hair products are not safe during pregnancy. If you plan on not dyeing while you are pregnant you may wish to formulate a plan with your hair expert to start growing your hair out subtly or using different treatments before you conceive.

Similarly, there’s research to show that the chemicals in some nail polishes are bad for women generally, but also fetuses. Some hair salons have quite strong fumes you’d probably prefer to avoid too, so consider taking your nails back to natural before you get pregnant.

8. Assess your skin and beauty treatments
Some skin and beauty treatments need to be put on hold during pregnancy because the safety of the ingredients or method used has not been proven to be safe for a fetus. On the list of excluded treatments: bleaching, electrolysis, laser treatments and depilatories. So formulate a plan to use alternative methods (shaving, waxing and tweezing are all fine). Skin treatments like botox and fillers are also not advisable for pregnancy. If you are using any prescription skincare or products with strong ingredients you need to check with your dermatologist or doctor about whether they are appropriate for pregnancy – some products, such as those containing Vitamin A derivatives – are contraindicated for use during pregnancy and also for a period before you conceive. Similarly, some peels and antibiotic products used for skin problems are not advised during pregnancy.

Many women find their skin behaves differently during pregnancy – oiliness, dryness, acne and pigmentation are all pretty common scenarios for pregnant women. Since you don’t know how your skin will behave, the best advice we can probably give you is to not start a brand new skincare regimen at the same time you embark on your pregnancy journey – you might find you can’t use it. Try using more natural products and see if you can manage any skin woes this way. The good news is that since changes to the skin of pregnant women are largely hormone-driven, many women find that after delivery their skin returns to the way it was pre-pregnancy.

9. Stop contraception
Do we really need to tell you this bit? Well, yes. Some contraception you can stop straight away – goodbye condoms! – and since condoms aren’t hormonal they won’t have any bearing on your cycle. However, other contraceptives should be stopped at an appropriate time in your cycle (e.g. for the contraceptive pill), and some contraceptives – like IUDs – will require a visit to your doctor. Your doctor will counsel you on a good time to stop contraception and when to start trying.

You should be aware that your body might take a month or two to get back into a natural rhythm after you stop taking hormonal contraceptives. Also, when you are trying to conceive, check your lubricant. Some lubricants can interfere with sperm and hamper their journey to your egg!