Today we know a lot more about the importance of pre-conception care, and are aware that careful planning can have a positive impact on the health of the mother and her baby, while in the womb and throughout life.
Pre-conception care is not solely an issue for women. Did you know, for example, that it takes three months for healthy sperm to develop so that they are capable of fertilising an egg? Pre-conception care for men can improve the number and mobility of their sperm as well as provide him with a general sense of wellbeing. We advise both partners to be prepared.
Ideally, pre-conception care starts four to six months before the planned time of conception (obviously for many this starts with stopping contraception). If you aren’t able to work within this time-span then try for at least one month so that you can build up adequate stores of folic acid and other vital nutrients.
There are many theories and recommendations to help get pregnant, but common to much of the research are:
To make these points even clearer, we have come up with 16 tips on how to get pregnant. For some, these will be a challenge, so start small and keep progressing.
Remember that the day before ovulation is the most important day for intercourse to ensure maximum viability of both sperm and egg. If you are unsure of when you ovulate, use an ovulation kit or read up about understanding your cycle.
Smoking cigarettes lowers sperm count; can lead to sperm abnormalities and may be a factor in impotence. Importantly, smoking also has significant affects on female fertility particularly ovulation. It can also affect embryonic development and increase the risk of having a low birth-weight baby. Smoking also lowers the body’s circulating vitamin C. Vitamin C can potentially reduce some side-effects from smoking such as poor eyesight and cell ageing.
Most government agencies recommend complete alcohol abstinence when planning pregnancy to avoid potential, early impact on the developing baby.
Caffeine significantly increases the chances of miscarriage as well as potentially lowering fertility in both men and women.
Limit your exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and recreational drugs. Chemicals in solvents, pesticides and many household products should also be avoided.
The risk of many pesticides is dose and concentration related: the greater the exposure, the greater the likelihood of having a reaction. The health effects of pesticide residue in our food are is not yet clearly documented. One way to avoid pesticides is to buy organic produce and meats. ‘Organic-certified produce’ requires that the food was grown, harvested, stored and transported without the use of synthetic chemicals, irradiation or fumigants. Not only are there an ever-increasing number of organic outlets but many supermarket chains now retail their own organic brands.
But be mindful that not all healthcare professionals agree with the “organic is best” philosophy and believe that eating a diverse range of fresh, healthy foods provide the same benefits.
Review any medications with your health care provider and pharmacist. Check your medicine cabinet at home for drugs that may affect fertility and pregnancy. For men this may include anabolic steroids or blood pressure medication. Women need to review antibiotics and painkillers and under the guidance of a pharmacist or healthcare professional, perhaps change to more appropriate medication.
The importance of healthy body weight for women who want to get pregnant has been well documented. Sex hormones produced by men and women are closely linked to body weight. Obesity in women is a high risk issue in conception and pregnancy; for example, overweight women often experience infertility and are in a higher risk category for miscarriage and pregnancy and birth complications. Likewise, underweight women have a higher risk of premature labour and anaemia.
Sperm are best maintained at lower than normal body temperature. Spas, saunas, tight underwear and even laptops can all affect the production and numbers of healthy sperm.
Relaxation can play an integral role in conception, with evidence that couples with reduced stress or improved ability to handle stress may have better rates of conception. Less stress can also have a positive effect on the foetus. More evidence could shed some light on why many couples with fertility issues have found that after fertility assistance or adopting a child, they conceived without any help. Given the elusive nature of stress, it remains a difficult subject to substantiate; however, there’s no doubt that lifestyle changes that enhance positive feelings are of benefit.
Moderate and regular exercise is important in any healthy lifestyle. A brisk walk, exercising at the gym or playing sport all contribute to general health and wellbeing. They can also improve the chances of getting pregnant and lower the risks of diseases caused by inactivity.
But- over-exercising is not advisable for women as this can adversely affect hormone balance and impair ovulation (due to the lack of body fat). During pregnancy, excessive exercise can impair placental and foetal growth. Discuss your exercise regime with your healthcare provider. Keeping an exercise diary can give a more accurate idea of energy expenditure.
A nutritious diet includes adequate protein and complex carbohydrates, nutrient-dense foods, foods with a concentration of healthy fats over unhealthy fats and one that is high in fresh fruit and vegetables. This intake provides a solid nutritional basis for health and conception. A good pre-conception diet is one that is within the healthy range of vitamin C, zinc and folic acid (particularly for women); for example, red capsicum, coloured berries and guava are all very rich in vitamin C; nuts and seeds are high in zinc; and grains are good sources of folic acid. Folic acid supplements are recommended for women one month before conception and within the first three months of pregnancy.
Restrictive diets have been shown to have a negative effect on female hormone levels and can affect couples trying to get pregnant, so avoid extreme dieting.
Both men and women should avoid over-eating sugar, especially added sugars, as this can interfere with hormone levels and insulin function.
Every cell in our body contains water. The bodily functions our body fluids perform include: transporting nutrients and waste throughout the body; forming much of the structure of large molecules; and providing suspension by acting as a shock-absorber inside the eyes, spinal cord and the amniotic sac surrounding the foetus in the womb. Many chemical reactions occur in fluid; water acts as the solvent for minerals, vitamins, amino acids, glucose and a huge range of other small molecules; it is also important in lubricating and cushioning joints, and helps in the regulation of body temperature and maintaining blood volume.
Drink water throughout the day. If your urine is coloured, has a strong odour and you urinate infrequently, you could be dehydrated. Fluid intake is particularly important in hotter weather, when exercising, and during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Studies have shown that taking supplements of dietary folic acid at least one month before conception and during the first trimester significantly lowers the risk of the developing baby having neural tube defects. Talk to your pharmacist or healthcare professional about the right supplement for you.
Particularly important if you are considered to be in a high-risk category. Women in a high-risk category, who have a pre-existing illness, and/or a history of miscarriage, should consider supplementation under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional; this may also be wise for many men.
Some women benefit from taking additional vitamin and mineral supplements. But it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting.
Note that women wanting to conceive should not take vitamins A and D without supervision because they can potentially be toxic.
Avoid cat litter and potentially contaminated soil. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite which is spread in cat and farm animal faeces and can also be in also undercooked meat. An infection with Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can affect the health and development of an unborn baby.
Other pre-conception care considerations include testing for rubella immunity, diabetes, blood pressure and a full blood count (ensuring iron status is adequate). Having a dental check-up is also recommended so that extensive treatment can be done before conception.
For more information see Getting Pregnant.
This information has been provided by Leanne Cooper from Cadence Health. Leanne is a qualified nutritionist and mother of two very active boys. Thank you to Christian McErvale for his research.
This information should not replace the expertise of qualified health professionals. Always check for relevant credentials when sourcing fitness and health professionals.