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Optimizing Your Health Prior to Pregnancy
by Monica Moore, RN, RMA of Connecticut
Although experiencing infertility can be one of the most stressful times in a woman’s life, it provides a unique opportunity to optimize both partners’ health and, therefore, the health of future pregnancies.
Placental and fetal growth are most susceptible to maternal nutrition and lifestyle choices during pre-implantation and the first 3 to 7 weeks after the last menstrual period. Since many women do not know that they are pregnant this early, they may be inadvertently making poor lifestyle choices at a critical time for their baby. Although it is reassuring to know that isolated incidences of poor health choices are not as important as sustained good health, there are certain things you can do before conception that may increase your fertility potential and optimize you and your baby’s health.
Achieve a healthy weight. Neither extreme in weight is ideal prior to or during pregnancy. Being overweight (BMI >30 kg/ml) puts women at risk for many obstetrical complications, such as gestational diabetes, neural tube defects, preterm delivery and an increased risk of c-section. Pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy) is often worsened by insulin resistance, a condition prevalent in many overweight women or women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Since it is not recommended to lose weight during pregnancy, weight loss endeavors should be initiated prior to conception. Being underweight (BMI less than 18.5 kg.ml) is also problematic. These women are at risk for nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, preterm birth, low birth weight, and intrauterine growth retardation.
Achieving a healthy weight is also important for the male partner. Increasing obesity is directly associated with male infertility1. It contributes to lower testosterone levels, poorer sperm quality and reduced fertility. Couples attempting to conceive should make nutritious meals part of the household plan.
Start building important vitamin stores. If not already taking prenatal vitamins, start taking them now. Folic acid supplementation is particularly important since studies have shown that adequate stores of folic acid can greatly reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus. Assure proper iron intake from foods and prenatal vitamins to prevent anemia. Another important vitamin is vitamin D. Studies show that up to 70% of pregnant women do not have adequate vitamin D levels 2. Vitamin D is not only protective against several cancers, but also helps to prevent osteoporosis, hypertension and diabetes3. Babies and children who have adequate levels of Vitamin D have a lower risk of type 1 diabetes4.