My brother-in-law once said that having a child is the only truly permanent thing you ever do. You can marry and get a divorce, you can accept a new job and then quit — but once you are a parent, you are always a parent. Since the relationship is so long-lasting, it behooves you to be as healthy as possible, both physically and psychologically, before you embark on the parenting journey.
About half the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so if you are thinking of trying to conceive, both you and your baby are going to be at an advantage if you take some concrete steps beforehand.
Habits Worth Breaking
The most important thing you can do is to stop smoking. We hear a lot about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy, but what is less well known is the impact of smoking on fertility. A 25-year-old smoker is as fertile as a 35-year-old nonsmoker, so if you want to get pregnant now, you are far more likely to do so without nicotine in your life.
Limit alcohol intake.
Research shows that the more alcoholic beverages you consume per week, the longer it will take to get pregnant.
Cut back on caffeine.
The research on caffeine is conflicting, but there have been numerous reports linking caffeine to miscarriage. Since the amount of caffeine you drink the month before conception can be important, cutting back now is advisable. Do so gradually, however — caffeine withdrawal can be brutal!
The Weight Issue
Your body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on your weight and height, is important for your health as well as your baby’s. Being underweight and being obese both pose a risk to you and your baby. If your BMI is below 20 or above 30, check with your doctor or see a nutritionist to learn about healthier eating habits.
Focus on good nutrition.
You probably have heard it many times before: Now is a really good time to concentrate on whole grains, colorful fruits and veggies, lean sources of protein such as chicken and pork, and dairy products.
Take a vitamin.
No matter how healthful your diet, you should take a prenatal vitamin or a multivitamin for at least one month before conceiving, to minimize the odds of your baby having birth defects.
Exercise is also important, since research has shown that fit women have easier pregnancies and deliveries. Don’t overdo it, however; excessive exercise can make it tougher to get pregnant. Walking, swimming and biking are all good choices.
Having a Health Assessment
The March of Dimes strongly urges all women considering conception to make an appointment with their ob/gyn to have a “pre-conception” checkup. Your doctor will make sure that your Pap smear is up to date, you don’t need any vaccinations and that none of the medications you might be taking could harm your baby. You can discuss genetic testing options that might be recommended, based on your ethnicity and family history, prior to conceiving. You can also be reassured about how long it might take to conceive. For most couples, it doesn’t happen the first month, but 85 percent conceive a healthy baby within a year.
Is It Your Time?
Finally, take a good look at your life right now and think about your current stress level. Is this a good time for you to become a parent? If things are relatively stable, go for it. But if there is a significant crisis in your life, it might make sense for you to postpone baby-making until things calm down.
However, since time is more important if you are 35 or older, you might want to bring in reinforcements (family and friends) to take on some of your burdens, and make this year your time to conceive.
Becoming a parent can be one of life’s ultimate highlights and challenges. Being well prepared by maintaining a healthy mind, body and lifestyle can make it easier and even better.
Bestselling author Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, Director of Mind/Body Services at Boston IVF, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School and Senior Staff Psychologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.