The thought of having a baby today may make you break out into a cold sweat, but taking care of your body now is crucial for having a healthy baby later. Whether you’re thinking about getting pregnant in the next few months, a year or maybe someday down the road, it’s important to adopt little lifestyle changes that can protect your fertility, ease future pregnancy symptoms and even up your odds for an easier labor. Follow these 10 simple steps to keep your body in peak baby-making form.
1. Get checked out.
Undiagnosed health issues like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, autoimmune disorders and pelvic inflammation caused by sexually transmitted infections can reduce fertility and increase your risk for miscarriage. Before you pull the goalie, schedule an exam with your doc to get a clean bill of health. That goes for your partner, too: Roughly 40% of infertility issues are attributed to men, so make sure he books an appointment.
2. Know your cycle.
We spend so much effort trying not to get pregnant that it’s easy to assume it’ll be a cake walk when we’re finally ready to take the leap into parenthood, but conceiving can be trickier than you think. Sperm have just 12 to 24 hours to fertilize an egg after ovulation, so timing is everything. The good news: Women who monitor their menstrual cycles are twice as likely to get pregnant within six months. Start charting your cycle with a free app like Glow to help you determine your most fertile days.
3. Take your vitamins.
A simple way to ensure a smoother pregnancy: Fill up on folate. Getting enough of the nutrient before you get knocked up has been shown to reduce your baby’s risk for serious birth defects like spinal bifida. Docs recommend that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folate a day. Not all folates are made the same. The most common form, folic acid, must undergo a multistep metabolic process to be available to your body. The form L-methylfolate is much easier to absorb (bioavailable) and is therefore preferred. How do you get it? Reach for folate-rich food like citrus fruits, beans, broccoli, leafy greens like spinach, fortified breads and cereals, or a daily supplement like the SmartyPants prenatal gummy vitamin.
4. Mind the scale.
Maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk for birth complications, including the need for a C-section, while being overweight or underweight can disrupt ovulation and make it more difficult to get pregnant. And it’s not just your scale that matters: Harvard research shows overweight men are 11% more likely to have a low sperm count than normal-weight men, and couples who are both overweight may have to wait up to three times longer to conceive than normal-weight couples, a study in the journal Human Reproduction suggests.
To determine if you and your partner are in a healthy range, calculate your body mass index (BMI) — a measurement of body fat based on your height and weight. A BMI between19 and 24 is ideal, while less than 19 is underweight and anything over 25 is considered overweight.
5. Get moving.
The more physically active you are, the easier your pregnancy may be. Research shows fit women lower their risk for pregnancy-related health issues like pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, and are less likely to experience birth complications and even depression. Exercise during pregnancy has also been shown to boost energy and diminish pesky pregnancy symptoms like bloating, swelling and constipation. Aim for 120 minutes of physical activity a week — but don’t push yourself too hard. Research from Norwegian University School of Science and Technology shows women who exercise too strenuously may reduce their fertility, so save the marathon training until after baby is born.
6. Green your beauty routine.
Common chemical compounds in cosmetics, shampoos, soaps and toothpastes can disrupt fetal growth in boys and may increase the risk for obesity, research in Epidemiology suggests. Two to watch out for: Parabens (a preservative in cosmetics and healthcare items) and Triclosan, an antibacterial agent in toothpaste and soap. Always read labels and visit the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database for a comprehensive list of the best products to buy for you and your future baby.
7. Eat well.
Another reason to skip fast food: The more trans fats you have in your diet, the higher your risk for infertility, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows. On the flip side, women who follow a Mediterranean-style diet (think lots of veggies, fish, beans, healthy nuts and oils) actually increase their chances of becoming pregnant and may even reduce the likelihood of complications during pregnancy. Fill your plate with whole, fresh foods and shop organic whenever possible. People who eat organic produce have significantly lower levels of pesticide exposure than those who eat traditionally grown foods, a study in Environmental Health Perspectives shows.
8. Kick butt(s).
Not only does smoking double your chances of experiencing infertility and increase your odds of miscarriage, mothers who smoke can damage the future fertility of their sons, research from Australia reveals. The earlier you quit the better. Click here for five ways to quit the stinky habit.
9. Pick a healthcare provider.
Do you want an OB or a midwife? A birth center or a hospital? Now is a good time to start thinking about the type of prenatal care you’d want and the best provider for that care. You may want to continue seeing your gynecologist or you may want to meet with a midwife. Ask family and friends you trust for recommendations to ensure you feel comfortable talking with your prenatal provider about the type of pregnancy and birth experience you hope to have.
10. Chill Out.
Too much stress can make it harder to conceive, according to a study in the journal Human Reproduction. Researchers found that women with the highest levels of the stress hormone cortisol took up to 29% longer to get pregnant than other women. Even worse, stress levels during pregnancy could affect the growth and long-term health of your baby. Take time to unwind and recharge each day with meditation, yoga, reading, journal or talking to close friends and loved ones.