If you ask any newly pregnant woman if she prefers a boy or a girl, you’re bound to hear one resounding statement:
Every soon-to-be mama wants her baby to be as nourished and well protected as possible, and this requires the mother’s own health be in tip-top shape during the pregnancy.
If you’re still in the stages of trying to get pregnant, these concerns are probably on your mind as well – and they should be. Getting and being pregnant is an exciting and joyful time, but it can also be an emotional minefield. First there’s the information overload about what you should or shouldn’t do to conceive, and then there’s the preparation, stress and worry that occur while you’re waiting for the baby to arrive.
What do I eat?
What do I not eat?
Is it safe to exercise?
Where do I buy BPA-free baby bottles?
How do I make my own natural baby wipes?
Am I taking enough vitamins?
Am I taking too many?
The list of questions goes on and on.
There’s no shortage of information and advice for pregnant women. But when it comes to my patients, I try to keep things simple…
Follow these tips to ensure you have a healthy and happy pregnancy – even if right now you’re only in the “trying” phase:
1. Eat for Health (Yours and Baby’s!)
Tweak your diet (or rehaul it completely if it’s currently full of not-so-good-for-you foods) well before that pregnancy test comes back positive. The right foods and supplements will reduce inflammation, balance your hormones and improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Here are a few guidelines:
- Up your omegas. Eat more fish (varieties that are low in mercury; always wild, not farmed!), organic eggs and walnuts. These foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to play a role in healthy fetal brain development.
- Make folic acid your friend. Folic acid may help to prevent birth and heart defects in your baby. Dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits and beans should be staples in your diet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that women take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day, starting at least one month before you plan on getting pregnant. If you’re trying to get pregnant soon, start taking 400 mcg of folic acid right away.
- Cut carbs and gluten. I tell patients to eliminate or minimize high-glycemic carbohydrates and gluten as much as possible. In addition to the benefits this can provide in terms of lowering inflammation levels and helping to keep your sugar cravings in check, studies suggests that women who avoid processed carbs and simple sugars tend to have higher fertility rates. Research on celiac disease and gluten intolerance, furthermore, has shown that the immune responses associated with gluten sensitivity can affect fertility and menstruation.
- Say no to GMO. Make sure most of the food you eat is organic, which means it’s not genetically modified. The more research that’s revealed about the harmful effects GMOs have on our immunity and brain health, the more I recommend you avoid them at all costs – for yourself and your children. It’s good to educate yourself about GMOs.
- Don’t drink coffee or alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol have a laundry list of side effects, but what’s important to know for fertility and pregnancy is that both can raise cortisol levels. Studies have shown that too much of this “stress” hormone can actually increase your risk of early pregnancy loss.
Along with maintaining a healthy diet, it’s also important to move your body on a regular basis. Many women are still under the false assumption that exercise is a no-no during pregnancy, but the truth is that regular movement can help your baby reach a healthy birth weight, alleviate the aches and pains associated with pregnancy and possibly even make your labor easier and shorter (nice!).
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Start somewhere. If you aren’t very active, work with your physician to develop a safe exercise plan. In general, aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise four days per week. This could include walking, swimming, cycling, aerobics or yoga.
- Be smart. Avoid sports or activities that involve a lot of contact, jumping or bouncing (just don’t go joining a flag football league and you’ll probably be OK), but know that light strength training shouldn’t pose any risks as long as you’re not lifting extremely heavy weights or doing strenuous exercises. Check with your doctor if you’re not sure about the safety of a particular exercise.
- Try yoga. A fantastic moderate exercise, yoga provides so many benefits for you and your baby. Recent evidence shows that yoga can help to prevent high-risk pregnancy complications like high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also found that a daily yoga practice can reduce the risk that a baby is born preterm or with a low birth weight. As you move through your pregnancy, make sure you’re taking classes with an instructor well-versed in prenatal yoga.
- Listen to your body. When it comes to exercise during pregnancy, the best thing you can do is listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right or you can’t perform at a level you could earlier in your pregnancy, stop, listen to your body and scale back.
3. Cut Out Chemical Exposure
One of the most important things you can do if you’re trying to get pregnant, or already are, is to limit your exposure to phthalates at all costs. Phthalates are xenoestrogens, or fake estrogens, with a chemical structure similar to real estrogen.
As endocrine disruptors, these types of synthetic chemicals have been linked to problems with metabolism, fertility and reproductive health. Phthalates have also been associated with reductions in sperm quality and quantity in men and miscarriage and endometriosis in women. Phthalates are found in many plastic products, from food storage containers to medical devices to fragrances. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission notes that several types of phthalates have been banned from children’s toys and products used to help feed and get a baby to sleep. But these laws took effect in 2009, so watch out for that hand-me-down rubber duckie.
They’re also common in many conventionally grown crops, seeping in from pesticides and contaminants in the water and soil used to grow these foods.
Some of the ways to avoid phthalates are:
- Rhyme time. When buying plastic products, memorize the phrase, “1, 2, 4, 5; stay alive.” Plastic products with the recycling code “3” molded onto the bottom of the product are likely to contain phthalates.
- Step away from the microwave. Never, ever heat food in a plastic container, as this can leach phthalates.
- Do your homework. If you see DEP, MEP, DiDP, DiNP, DEHP, MEHP, BBP or DBP on the label, this indicates the presence of different classes of phthalates. Find a different product!
- Read labels. Stick with “fragrance-free” beauty and cleaning products, as phthalates aren’t legally required to be listed if they’re part of the “fragrance” ingredients. Ideally, just choose products that say “phthalate-free.”
One of the wonderful things about being pregnant is that it can be a powerful reminder to start taking better care of yourself. After all, if that beautiful little baby inside you is worth a healthy diet, a chemical-free house and some Zen time in yoga class, so are you, mama.