Typically, when you begin to think about buying a house, you start saving money. When you know you’re having a baby, you start setting up the nursery. When you begin to think about getting married, you start telling all your old flames that you’re off the market. When you’re launching a war, you make sure your guns and munitions are ready, and your borders are fortified.
So why is it that most women walk into pregnancy unprepared?
As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. When you begin to think about getting pregnant, you should set up the environment where your baby is going to live for those nine months (your body). Now while it is understood that not every baby is planned ahead of time, it’s definitely common sense to think about this if you are planning to conceive a child within the next year.
A good friend of mine in Jeddah recently confided that after three years of marriage, she and her husband had started seriously thinking about having their first child. She wanted to go off the pill but wasn’t sure how or when to do it. She was due to switch positions at work, and had a choice of two, and thinking smart, she opted for the one with fewer hours. She asked me if there was anything else they hadn’t thought of, and I told her that for starters, going off the pill was best done under the supervision of a doctor; because he would be able to tell her at what point during the cycle to stop, and what to expect in terms of delays in conception. I also told her that she needed to evaluate their lifestyle as a couple and hers as an individual, and make informed choices.
Opting for the less time intensive job was brilliant, because it would minimize the strain on her before, during pregnancy and after having the baby. Less job stress when attempting to conceive was a good idea in any case, she could eat better, sleep better, make love better.
The late nights and fast food they decided to dramatically cut back on, and they also initiated the process for employing a live-in maid and driver. They decided to start a new baby fund, pooling from their incomes at the beginning of each month. They of course, kept these thoughts to themselves, to deny people around them the pleasure of pressuring them with questions and mounting expectations.
Technically speaking, having a baby necessitates a contribution from both mother and father. So it’s not just the mother who needs to shape up, as dad contributes half of the genetic material. So if his contribution is lacking, well…
I told her that physically speaking, as a woman she already had all the eggs she would ever have in her ovaries (females are born that way) and that a man’s sperm develops during a four-month cycle. Lifestyle changes couldn’t change her eggs for the better, but they could drastically improve the quality of husband’s wrigglers. Experts advise that any lifestyle changes should be introduced around 4-6 months prior to conception, to enable the body to adjust.
Here is some of what I suggested to my friend:
- If you or your husband smokes, stop. If you feel you can’t do that on your own, join a smoking cessation service, there are several around you, just ask.
- Try to limit caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, energy drinks) and chocolate.
- Try to eat healthier; more variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Try to eat at least one kind of oily fish per week (Salmon, Tuna, Cod); experts have linked seafood with higher levels of infant and child intelligence.
- Start taking a Folic Acid supplement; 400 mcg of Folic Acid per day for 3 months prior to conception and 3 months into pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of spinal abnormalities in babies.
- Drink more fluids; keep a bottle of water in your handbag, or invest in a juicer to try out new combinations at home. Getting into the habit of keeping yourself hydrated will lessen the risk of stretch marks and tearing, this is especially important if you live in a warm climate.
- If you’re overweight or underweight, try to work your way to a reasonable BMI; this aids conception and will make you feel better too.
- If you aren’t physically active, join a class or be more active at home (jump rope, swim, buy a yoga DVD, and take the stairs instead of the elevator). The more physically active and therefore healthy you are, the less difficulty you will have conceiving, carrying and giving birth to your baby. (Haven’t you heard what an easy time Gisele had when she had her baby?)
Think of it as stocking up (nutrients) in your body for winter (in this case incubating a baby). This thinking smart and especially eating well before conception will stand you in good stead as well if you suffer morning sickness the first few weeks and can’t keep anything down; there will be a nutrient store for the embryo to draw from.
Research has proven that preparing your body to carry a baby significantly improves the quality of pregnancy, the experience of delivery and postpartum recovery, and positively impacts the health of your newborn and your child’s health throughout life. The suggestions I gave to my friend were those my husband and I used ourselves, and she now is a proud mom of two healthy twin 2 year old boys.