Claire Lundberg’s article “The French Government Wants to Tone my Vagina,” is fantastic and will surely make you laugh. The sad truth, however, is that for women in the US, the lack of care and education needed to protect our bodies and health before, during, and after childbirth is significant. While Lundberg’s piece highlights post-partum care, preconception care is also essential.
By following preconception guidelines, you can expect the following:
- Increased fertility
- Reduced risk for unhealthy pregnancy
- Avoid or minimize pregnancy complications
- A healthier baby, including risk of future health problems
- Speedier recovery
Here are recommendations on getting your body ready for pregnancy. Note: Your partner may not be carrying the baby but should join you as well for increased fertility and support.
Why a Preconception Visit is a Good Idea (and for your partner too):
Nothing about shots, STD screenings and getting blood drawn sounds fun at all, but the benefit of prevention care has the potential to prevent serious complications. It’s worth it. Unfortunately some insurances do not cover these visits. If you are unable to afford the screenings or lab results, ask your doctor for recommendations for a more affordable clinic. Also, the cost of a preconception visit is far less than if a complication arises.
Vaccinations to Protect your Baby:
There are vaccinations that can prevent dangerous viruses to an unborn baby which are recommended to receive at least a month before pregnancy. These include vaccines for chickenpox (varicella) and German measles (rubella) . You may already be immune to certain infections and can have your doctor perform a blood test to check for immunity for one or more the vaccines. You can review a CDC chart of vaccines recommended for before, during and after pregnancy here.
Certain Medications May Pose a Risk:
Discuss any medications or supplements you may be taking or need to take. No medication has been approved for pregnancy. If your medication is essential for your health and wellbeing, it will most likely be important to remain on the medication but talk to your healthcare provider about your options and risks.
For non-life threatening medical issues such as allergies, headaches and infections, talk to your healthcare provider to talk about the risks should you become pregnant. Your health care provider might recommend changing doses, switching to a different medication or stopping the product before you conceive.
Get Screened for Any Potential STDs:
If you are at all at risk for having a sexually transmitted disease (STD), talk to your doctor about getting checked. Sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia can interfere with your ability to conceive in both men and women. These infections also pose serious risks and complications to both you and your baby during pregnancy and delivery.
Get that Dental Appointment Out of the Way:
Don’t forget the dentist. It’s a good idea to get a check up before becoming pregnant in case any x-rays or dental work needs to be done. Also, there has been research to show that if there is too much of a certain bacteria living in the mouth (ie gum disease) there may be an increased risk for pre-term labor (source).
Now for What you Can do at Home
Take Prenatal Vitamins:
As soon as you start trying to conceive you should start taking prenatal vitamins. Taking prenatal vitamins before conception will help to prevent potential complications. Folic acid will help to prevent neural tube defects. Your supplement should also have iron to prevent you from having anemia which is common in pregnant women due to the need for your body to create more red blood cells for the baby. Iron also helps to support the baby’s development.
To read more about what vitamin and minerals should be in your supplement check out the Mayo Clinic guidelines here.
Exercise is Magic:
Why is exercise magic? Exercise can decrease the risk of gestational diabetes, preclampisa, low back pain as well as improve mood and fetal development. Exercise is a key component to manage weight, which is essential for getting pregnant due to hormonal imbalances that occur with excessive weight. Exercise has also been shown to improve rates of implantation and pregnancy as well as reduce the risk of miscarriage (source).
In men, the right amount of exercise can increase sperm count and quality. It can also improve sex drive in both men and women. Not to mention the incredible psychological and stress reduction benefits it provides. All of which are key components to making a baby.
Ideally a you should do a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity 6-7 days a week and 75 minutes/week of vigorous intensity or if over weight it is recommended to do moderate intensity physical activity for 225-300 minutes/week.
If doing 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week is not feasible, however, aim for 2-3 days a week of cardiovascular exercise and two days a week of weight lifting. To squeeze in stretching, take 5-10 minutes to stretch after each work out.
It's a good idea to find exercises that are lower impact and have a reduced risk of falling. Examples include walking, swimming or a stationary bike
Do 2-3 reps for every major muscle group with 10-15 reps. Building the strength and endurance of your muscles will help your body adapt to pregnancy changes, maintain your posture and promote stability. Note: if you are not familiar with any of the below exercises, please ask an experienced trainer or physical therapist to show you how to do these properly.
- Shoulders: Shoulder press
- Chest: Wall push ups or dumbbell chest press
- Biceps: Stand on one leg and alternate biceps curls
- Triceps: Skip chair triceps unless you have done them with a professional trainer (doing these wrong can lead to shoulder damage). Use a dumbbell to do tricep extension one arm at a time
- Legs: Alternate lunges holding dumbbells
- Inner thighs: Bridge with ball between knees
- Glutes: Squats are wonderful for the bum. Try one-legged squats for an extra challenge.
- Hamstrings: One legged deadlift
- Core: Plank and side bridge (hold 15-30 seconds each set)
Yoga and pilates are fantastic ways to fit in stretching. Once you are pregnant, yoga specifically for pregnant women or group swim classes for pregnant women are fun ways to fit in a work out and meet other soon to be mom's.
And for the Pelvic floor (aka Toning your Vagina):
Imagine yourself 6 years from now excited to join your 6 year old inside a jumpy castle. You start jumping and then you have to go home early because jumping caused a little bit of leakage. Not going to jump inside a jumpy castle? Well, we all sneeze.
It's never too early to start strengthening your pelvic floor. Not only will this help to prevent incontinence, a strong pelvic floor helps to support your hips and lower back and also can improve your sex life.
If you sit often for work at at home, it's nearly a guarantee your pelvic floor is already weaker than it should be. Here are some good exercises you can do at home. Also, check out physical therapist, Julie Wiebe's, Kegel 2.0.
Reduce Toxins that Mess with your Hormones:
There are hundreds of chemicals we use each day that may be toxic to your fertility and future bundle of joy. The chemicals in many everyday products we use contain toxins known to be endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are natural or synthetic chemicals that alter our normal hormonal balance. These hormonal imbalances can potentially lead to fertility problems, birth defects, obesity, ADHD and cancer.
LIST OF CHEMICALS TO AVOID AND WATCH OUT FOR
[With examples of where they can be found (examples are NOT an exhaustive list)]
- BPA: plastic bottles and canned food
- Phthalates: make-up, perfume and plastic bags
- Mercury (thimersoal): paint
- Parabens: make-up, soap and lotions
- Organophosphates: insecticides & non-organic foods
- PVC (#3): plastic containers
- Retinoids: anti-aging lotions
- Pesticides: weeding and garden sprays
- Triclosan: soap, toothpaste, make-up
- Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs): non-stick pans
For more information on toxins and fertility click here
A Healthy Diet is Also Magic:
No matter what your weight may be, foods can either increase or decrease inflammation which has an impact on your hormones and ovulation. By adopting a healthy diet, you may feel better, have more energy and yes, become more fertile. To top it off, you will have a healthier pregnancy. Replenish your body with foods rich in iron such as lean red meat, shellfish, dark leafy greens, sesame seeds and beans.
Watch, however, that you don’t eat too much meat. The Nurses’ Health Study found that fertility increased in women who replaced a serving of meat each day with plant protein. Try adding more beans, peas, soybeans or nuts in place of meat for some protein. Here is a sample meal plan by Natural Fertility and Wellness.
We get caught up in worrying beyond comprehension that we won’t get pregnant. Then we get pregnant and we worry beyond comprehension that we will have a miscarriage. This is soon followed by worrying about going into preterm labor. There are many things we can control such as what foods we put in our body, whether we exercise or not and what products we use in our everyday lives.
There are things, though, that we simply can not control. Should you have a miscarriage or not be able to conceive, please remember, that is not your fault. You can do all of the above and have a miscarriage and someone else can do none of the above and have a baby. By following the preconception guidelines there is no guarantee that a problem won't arise, but you can be assured that you are giving yourself and your baby the best chance you can.