Every aspect of your health – from the drinks you consume to the exercise you do (or don’t do) – can have an impact on your fertility and on the health of your pregnancy. By looking at your healthy (and unhealthy) habits now (before the bun is in the oven) you can start off on the right foot. Our expert OB/GYN team has shared some important steps to take to ensure your health is at its best for conception, which will hopefully make conception easier and your pregnancy safer.
Habits to Break
Smoking is never good for you, so just don’t do it. But if you need a little motivation not to light up, repeat this fact to yourself: smoking (cigarettes, e-cigarettes, hookahs, vape pens, and so on) causes my 30-year-old eggs to act more like 40-year-old eggs. This results in a more difficult path to conception and a greater risk of miscarriage. Heavy smoking damages the ovaries as well as the uterus, and secondhand smoke can harm your health and fertility, too, so just choose to stay away!
Along with smoking cigarettes, smoking marijuana isn’t good for conception either. Whether you smoke, vape, or consume edibles, you can inadvertently affect the ability of your partner’s sperm to fertilize an egg – even if he doesn’t smoke marijuana! The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, gets in your vaginal fluids and reproductive organs. So to be most fertile (not to mention safe), say goodbye to marijuana. (And you should obviously also not use any illicit drugs, including cocaine, crack, or heroin, etc.).
Some studies have linked too much caffeine consumption with lowered fertility and an increased risk of miscarriage. If a baby is in your immediate plans, it’s time to put a little less coffee in your cup. You don’t have to give it up completely but moderation is the key here. Limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg per day. That’s equivalent to 12 ounces of brewed coffee per day.
Another beverage to limit (or eliminate completely) is alcohol. Drinking alcoholic beverages in excess can mess with your menstrual cycle, possibly interfering with ovulation. And because you won’t necessarily know the moment you conceive, there’s a chance you might be drinking in the first few weeks of your baby’s growth. Drinking alcohol while pregnant could harm your little one in the future. Choose to reduce your drinking to less than 7 drinks a week and never more than one on any occasion when trying to get pregnant. Only you and your bartender need to know you’re drinking a mocktail.
As far as medications go, most over-the-counter and many prescription meds are considered safe while you’re trying to conceive. But because some medications may compromise fertility, you should run any medications you take by your provider before you consume them. This includes the medications you take for your chronic condition and any vitamins or herbals you may take on a regular basis. The good news is there are almost always safer alternatives. Just ask your healthcare provider before making any changes to your medication routine.
Habits to Keep
There is a strong connection between weight and fertility. Reaching a healthy weight for your body type is an important step for conception. It’s not just the scale that determines this, though. The relationship between your weight and height are factored to determine your body mass index, or BMI. Being overweight can cause diminished egg quality, decreased ovarian function, or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a fairly common cause of fertility issues. Alternatively, women with a low BMI can also experience conception woes. Being underweight can lower estrogen levels, which can lead to irregular ovulation or periods (or even no ovulation or periods). Women who are obese or underweight when they become pregnant also have a higher risk of miscarriage.
Though it may be different for everyone, a moderate exercise program is the key. Moderate exercise can boost fertility, and you only need 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to do this. It can be walking, stretching, strength training, or anything that increases your heart rate. Remember to keep an eye on your body fat though. Prolonged, strenuous exercise can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones needed for ovulation and conception, especially if your BMI is very low. An ideal BMI for conceiving is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Before you put yourself on a diet or start packing on the carbs, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. Come up with a simple plan that features a well-balanced diet. Fill your meals with lean protein, veggies and fruits, and low-fat dairy. Cut down on junk foods and sugary drinks. Try water instead. Add in that moderate workout routine discussed above and you’ll be ready to kick-off your healthy path to pregnancy!
A good night’s rest is also very important. Six to nine hours of sleep per night is best. Beating the stress of the day and letting your body recuperate will only encourage fertility.
Finally, take 400 to 800 micrograms (400 to 800 mcg or 0.4 to 0.8 mg) of folic acid every day if you are planning a pregnancy or are currently pregnant. You can take a vitamin or eat a breakfast cereal containing your daily quota of folic acid. This will lower your risk of some birth defects of the brain and spine, including Spina bifida. Talk with your doctor about your folic acid needs. Some doctors prescribe prenatal vitamins that contain higher amounts of folic acid.
Whether it’s your first, second, or fifth baby, your body needs to be nurtured and cared for so that it can do the same for your future child. Both the female AND the male partner’s fertility can benefit from the advice listed above. And remember that no two bodies are exactly the same, so talk to your doctor before getting pregnant. They will discuss your medical history, any medical conditions you have, any medications you are currently taking, and any vaccinations you might need. This will help make a preconception health plan that is best for you.
For more information on preconception health, check out this conception plan template from the CDC.
The Obstetrics/Gynecology & Infertility Team at Medical Associates Clinic:
Joseph Berger, MD | Tara L. Holste, DO | Lisa A. Kramer, MD
Trupti S. Mehta, MD | Laura Neal, MD | Erika O’Donnell, MD
Call 563-584-4435 to schedule an appointment.