Pregnancy is the most dynamic time of a woman’s life . It is a roller coaster journey where you may feel ecstatic & joyful one moment and quite low & tearful the next .
Most of these changes are dependent upon your body’s response to the pregnancy hormones and there isn’t much that you can do about it. However, you can ensure that your body is better prepared to deal with these changes and the journey of a healthy pregnancy & motherhood starts much before the actual pregnancy begins.
It is a well known fact that healthy babies are born to healthy mothers and that your pre pregnancy health has a deep impact on the quality of the eggs & the resultant embryo and baby. As such, nowadays great emphasis is laid on improving the health status of women who are in the reproductive age group & may conceive in the near future.
You should start living a healthy lifestyle at least three months to a year before actually starting with a pregnancy. This is especially important because the journey of an embryo begins right after fertilization in the second half of the menstrual cycle and hence your lifestyle in this period may have significant effects on the developing embryo even before you find out that you are pregnant. The first few weeks of pregnancy is also the time when the developing embryo is most vulnerable to the effects of any dietary or environmental influences and hence it is a good idea to follow a few general rules & take a few safety precautions for all women who may be planning a pregnancy.
Best Pregnancy Care Tips :
- Folic Acid Supplementation– Taking Folic acid supplements is the single most important step that you can take to prevent any Neural Tube Defects ( NTD ) in your NTD’s are a specific group of birth defects that involve the brain, spinal cord & other structures developing from the Neural tube in the baby. The affected babies may have Spina Bifida ( where the baby’s spinal column does not close completely, leading to nerve damage that may result in paralysis of legs, urinary bladder or other affected organs ). Anencephaly is another important NTD in which the brain & skull do not develop in the baby. Such babies are not able to survive long after birth. Scientific research has documented that Folic Acid deficiency in the mother is an important cause of development of NTD in the baby & hence it can be prevented to a certain extent by starting Folic Acid supplementation in the expectant mother at least 3 months prior to conception or at least soon after conception. Women who are obese, or have Diabetes or are taking anti-seizure medications are at a higher risk of having a baby with NTD. Hence it is advisable for all women who may plan a pregnancy in near future , to start taking 400 micrograms of Folic Acid supplementation everyday. Apart from that, Folic acid is also available in fortified cereals, dried beans/peas/nuts, Citrus fruits & juices, Green vegetables like Spinach, Broccoli, Okra etc.
- Reduce your caffeine intake – Caffeine is found in beverages like tea, coffee, energy drinks, Cola based drinks & Excess caffeine hinders the absorption of various nutrients including Iron & Calcium. Studies have demonstrated that excess of caffeine intake is linked to delays in conceiving as well as complications during pregnancy. Excess caffeine may reduce the fertility by as much as 27% . The exact mechanism for this is not very clear but it has been postulated that caffeine affects the hormone levels in the body, thus altering ovulation as well as function of corpus luteum. On an average, your caffeine intake should not exceed 1-2 cups of coffee or 2-3 cups of tea per day. The upper limit of caffeine intake is about 200 mg/day.
- Quit Smoking & Alcohol intake– There is strong evidence that smoking adversely affects both male & female Both active & passive smoking are very harmful for the reproductive capacity as well as have serious effects on the developing baby . Women who smoke take longer to conceive & smoking increases the chances of abortion, low birth weight & other pregnancy complications. Smoking also damages the sperm DNA & hence leads to poor sperm quality. Similarly, Alcohol can cause impotence, reduce libido & affect sperm quality adversely. In women, alcohol affects the egg quality & the reproductive capacity and can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in which the baby has growth restriction, low intelligence, hearing defects, visual defects and other congenital malformations & behavioural problems. Hence , couples who are planning a pregnancy should quit smoking & alcohol.
- A healthy & well balanced diet – Begin by saying ‘NO’ to any kind of junk That includes anything which contains refined sugars, white flour or deep fried stuff .These things just fill up your stomach without necessarily providing any real nutrients. Mostly, focus on consuming a rainbow of foods daily i.e eat a variety of stuff including:
- Fruits & vegetables- Take at least 2 fruits ( fresh fruits/dried/fruit juice) daily & 2-3 servings of different vegetables ( Whether cooked or as salads)
- Milk & its products- At least 3 times daily
- Wholegrain cereals- Breads, pasta, chapattis, rice
- Eggs, poultry items
- Legumes,pulses, nuts and
- Fish- No more than 2 servings of oily fish per Avoid consuming shark, swordfish & Marlin fish.
Avoid foods rich in Retinol such as Liver or liver products or any supplements containing fish liver oil. Also avoid mould ripened or blue veined cheese such as Brie, Danish Blue etc. Most importantly, do not consume any medications or supplements without consulting your Gynaecologist about it.
- Avoid Environmental Toxins– Exposure to various toxic substances in pre conceptional period can affect the reproductive capacity of both men & Various chemical substances present in the environment may affect the baby’s health even if the parents were exposed to these agents prior to conception. These include:
- Pesticides- Exposure may be through ingestion, inhalation or through the These may lead to growth retardation of the baby, hamper the neurological development, increase the susceptibility of certain cancers in the baby.
- Solvents like benzene, toluene etc may be found in paint thinners, nail paints, exhaust fumes etc & may increase the chances of malformations in the
- Lead- Occupational exposure may occur in Battery manufacturing units, ornamental glassware & jewellery industry, recycling, car repair, old houses with lead paints Lead toxicity can cause intellectual impairment, increased likelihood of allergies in the baby & other defects.
- Anti cancer medications, Formaldehyde, Ethylene oxide, certain anaesthetic gases etc are other agents which can be potentially harmful for the couple’s reproductive health & health of the
- Maintaining ideal weight & BMI– It is known that being overweight or underweight can impair the fertility BMI or the Body Mass Index , is calculated based on the ratio of the weight & height of the person. Based on the BMI, a person’s weight can be classified as:
- Underweight- BMI less than 5 Kg/m²
- Normal – BMI between 18.5 – 25 Kg/m²
- Overweight – BMI between 25 – 30 Kg/m²
- Obese – BMI above 30 Kg/m²
It is recommended that one should maintain the BMI in the normal range while trying for pregnancy. This is so because being overweight increases the chances of pregnancy complications like miscarriage, preterm delivery, Operative delivery, Diabetes, Hypertension in pregnancy, NTD’s, low birth weight in the baby . Similarly , being underweight also causes problems by interfering with ovulation & leading to nutritional deficiencies. The way to achieve ideal BMI is through consuming a balanced diet & exercising regularly at least 120-150 minutes per week.
- Exercise – Regular exercise is a wonderful way of achieving & maintaining ideal body weight apart from being a great Regular exercise improves your blood circulation, releases substances like endorphins in your body that help fight stress & improve your happiness quotient . It also improves your muscle tone & strength so that your body is better prepared to deal with the changes of pregnancy. According to modern research, it is recommended that one should exercise at least 120-150 minutes per week. These exercises may include brisk walking, aerobics, swimming, cycling, Pilates, Yoga, dancing & pelvic floor exercises. Make sure that you consult your doctor first before starting any strenuous exercise regime so as to understand any possible restrictions or modifications needed in your fitness routine.
The Author, Dr. Smita Vats is practising as a Consultant Gynaecologist and Laparoscopic Surgeon in Gurgaon.She is one of the Best Gynaecologist in Gurgaon and a visiting consultant at various esteemed Hospitals in Gurgaon including Artemis Hospital, Cloud nine Hospital, Paras Hospital & GNH Hospital Gurgaon.