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A healthy body is the best place for your baby to grow, and your diet and fitness level can play a major part in influencing the health of your unborn child; they can also affect the quality of sperm.
A visit to the dentist is wise for anyone considering pregnancy. Periodontal disease causes illness-producing organisms in a woman’s mouth that may affect the baby.
So you’ve decided to try for a baby. This decision is probably one of the most significant and exciting you will make in your life. My mother used to say that parenthood is the agony and the ecstasy and she was right! If you are reading this article, maybe you have recognised the need to prepare yourself emotionally, mentally and physically for this important step.
The future of this baby begins several months before conception. From the moment you begin to think of getting pregnant you and your partner can take steps to ensure the baby has the best possible chance of being conceived and being born healthy. Most of what you need to do is just common sense; it’s a bit like spring-cleaning your home before a special guest arrives!
A healthy body is the best place for your baby to grow, and your diet and fitness level can play a major part in influencing the health of your unborn child; they can also affect the quality of sperm. For the first few weeks, many women don’t realise they’re pregnant, so both you and your partner might consider beginning to practise good eating and lifestyle habits as soon as you make the decision to try for a baby. During your pregnancy you will be undergoing profound physical and mental changes and will cope better if you are properly nourished. Getting your diet right now will also ensure you are building up all the nutrients and energy needed during pregnancy and after the baby is born.
If you have concerns that your diet is inadequate and are tempted to take supplements, talk to a health professional first. It’s preferable to get most of your nutritional requirements from a balanced diet rather than from supplements. Become interested in what you eat and make sure your food is high in essential nutrients by taking the following steps:
- Enjoy a wide variety of the freshest and most nutritious foods.
- Eat plenty of breads and cereals (preferably wholegrain), legumes, vegetables and fruits. If you put all the different colours of fruits and vegetables in your shopping trolley you will ensure you have the widest range of vitamins and minerals, as colour is often an indication of content. Vitamin C is lost very quickly after the plant is picked, so wherever possible, grow your own — pots on a balcony will happily house a variety of vegetables ranging from capsicum and eggplant to silverbeet, spinach and zucchini.
- Eat a diet low in fat, particularly saturated fat. This doesn’t mean your diet needs to be bland and devoid of fat — olive oil, for instance, is both desirable and adds delicious flavour to foods.
- Maintain a healthy bodyweight by balancing physical activity and food intake. It has been demonstrated that being either very overweight or underweight can be a major contributor to failure to conceive.
- Eat only a moderate amount of sugars and foods containing added sugars. Begin to read labels — you’ll be astonished at the number of processed foods containing sugar, such as baked beans. Manufacturers also use words such as lactose, sucrose, glucose and fructose to try to hide the fact that there is sugar in the product; these are all sugar in one form or another.
- Choose low-salt foods and use salt sparingly. If you want to add salt to your meals, use sea salt.
- Make sure there is zinc in your diet — found in dandelion greens, wheatgerm, brewer’s yeast, ginger root, potatoes, pumpkin seeds, eggs, dried skimmed milk, steak and lamb chops, carrots, beans, brussels sprouts, asparagus and corn.
- Achieve the minimum level of folate by eating sufficient daily amounts of green vegetables, carrots, kidneys, egg yolks, wholegrain cereals, fortified breakfast cereal and red raspberry leaf tea. Folate deficiency may cause brain and spinal cord defects at birth. Adequate folate needs to be taken at least one month before conception and if you feel you may not be getting enough in your food, you would be wise to take a supplement after consultation with your health professional. The benefits of folate begin three months before conception and continue to the end of the 13th week of pregnancy.
- Increase your intake of foods rich in B vitamins found in green leafy vegetables, whole wheat products, eggs, milk, cheese, soya flour, bananas, nuts, seeds, meats, fatty fish, avocado and dandelion greens.
- Try to eat only organically grown or unsprayed fruit and vegetables, but if this isn’t possible, wash them thoroughly in several changes of water and peel root vegetables. Pay special attention to the stalk area of apples as the indentation catches much of the spray.
Avoid foods that can negatively affect conception and pregnancy. Among them are:
- Some cheeses including blue vein, Camembert, Danish blue, Stilton and all unpasteurised cheeses. These can increase the risk of contracting listeriosis, which is usually a mild illness and a high temperature before or during labour may be the only sign. However, even a mild form of the illness can affect the unborn baby and lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth or a very ill baby at birth.
- Any style of p<\#226>t<\#233> increases the risk of contracting listeria.
- Meat when eaten rare or medium rare can increase the risk of contracting escheichia coli (E. coli), toxoplasmosis and salmonella.
- Raw eggs and raw egg products, including homemade mayonnaise, increase the risk of contracting salmonella.
- Shellfish, particularly raw shellfish such as oysters, increase the risk of listeria.
- Consider giving up smoking for your health, your partner’s and that of the baby you hope to have.
- Consider cutting back on caffeine, alcohol and recreational drugs. Researchers say caffeine may not delay conception or cause infertility, but it does appear to lower a woman’s chances of conceiving. (Note: caffeine may also help (in some men) by stimulating sperm motility.
- A three-month liver-cleansing diet is a wonderful thing to do for your body at any time, but particularly if you plan to become pregnant. Herbs to help cleanse the liver include dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis), burdock (Arctium lappa), milk thistle (Silybum marianum, which repairs damage to liver cells and protects them from toxins) and yellow dock (Rumex crispus). Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is an excellent blood purifier and two or three cups of red clover tea daily help to flush the kidneys and so excrete toxins.
- Men who eat a balanced and healthy diet, reduce or abstain from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs will produce healthier sperm. Healthier sperm are able to swim better, which may increase the chance of fertilisation and decrease the chance of deformities in the baby.
- Taken as a tea, red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) are said to increase fertility in both men and women. Red clover may also be eaten sprouted.
- We are not just the food we eat, though. Relaxation is also important. It’s widely accepted that stress and anxiety can affect your chances of conceiving. Get plenty of exercise, fun and sleep so your body, mind and emotions are in top condition.
Learn to meditate
The practice of meditation is undoubtedly the best way to lessen stress and can be learned very easily. There are many good books and CDs available and it’s usually possible to find a course somewhere in your neighbourhood. If this doesn’t appeal to you, simply try the following:
- Sit comfortably and quietly after or before work in a candle-lit room with a few drops of lavender oil sprinkled around.
- Tighten and relax all the muscles of your body, starting at your feet and working slowly upwards. Feel the difference between the tense and relaxed muscles.
- Pay special attention to the muscles in your shoulders, neck, face and jaw.
- As you tighten a muscle, breathe in through your nose; as you release the muscle, breathe out through your mouth, "Aaahhh".
- When your muscles are relaxed, continue with gentle breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. In your mind, say "one" as you breathe in. See the word "one" or the numeral "1" on your mental screen as you breathe out. Say the word silently on the in breath and "see: the word on the out breath.
- Don’t become stressed if your mind strays; just gently bring it back to the word "one", over and over for 10 to 30 minutes.
Avoid inhaling or using toxic chemicals or other pollutants such as cleaning agents, aerosol sprays and insect repellents.
Wear clothes made from natural fibres and avoid using hair dyes and commercial skin and hair preparations that contain undesirable chemicals, such as propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is a petroleum derivative and a major ingredient in brake and hydraulic fluid. Material safety data sheets on this product warn to avoid skin contact as it is systemic and can cause dermatitis, liver abnormalities and kidney damage. When you read the labels on skin and hair products for both children and adults you’ll find that almost all contain this ingredient.
Go for a medical checkup to make sure there are no problems such as genetically inherited diseases. During this visit ask to have a check on your rubella immunity. If you are on medication, ask whether it can have any adverse effect on an unborn baby.
A visit to the dentist is wise for anyone considering pregnancy. Periodontal disease causes illness-producing organisms in a woman’s mouth that may affect the baby. Mothers with severe periodontal disease (symptoms of periodontal disease range from bleeding, red or swollen gums to bad breath and/or loose teeth) are seven times more likely to have a baby of low birthweight, according to a controlled study of 124 pregnant women recently completed.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t fall pregnant immediately. Unless there are factors such as age, endometriosis, a history of difficulty conceiving, irregular periods or you have been trying for 9-12 months, it may be simply that intercourse isn’t happening during your fertile period. It may also be that you are anxious, over-desirous and becoming stressed. Who hasn’t heard of couples who adopt and then become pregnant?
There are a few ways for you to work out when your fertile period is occurring. One way is to watch for changes in your cervical mucus. It increases in volume and changes in consistency as your monthly cycle progresses. At the beginning of the cycle, there is little mucus and it’s cloudy, sticky and thick; when you are ovulating it becomes more plentiful, clear and thinner. Some women also experience a few hours of abdominal pain, cramps or discomfort when ovulating.
Kits are available to detect the luteinising hormone in the urine. Normally about one to two days before the middle of each menstrual cycle, the level of this hormone will surge suddenly and usually an egg is released from the ovary 24-36 hours after the surge. There is a 24- to 36-hour period after this release when the egg can be fertilised.
Could you be pregnant now?
A missed period is the first and most common sign of pregnancy, but this can also be caused by conditions other than pregnancy. A home pregnancy test kit or a test by your doctor will ascertain whether you are pregnant. Sore, swollen breasts are a common sign of pregnancy. The skin around your nipples (areolae) usually darkens in colour when you are pregnant and you may notice more pronounced veins on the surface of your breasts.
It’s possible to experience morning sickness or feel nauseated as early as a few days after conception. Morning sickness is a misnomer, as it can occur any time of the day, but it is certainly not inevitable. Pregnancy also creates high levels of the hormone progesterone which, through its sedative effect, creates a feeling of extreme tiredness. You may also find yourself feeling the need to urinate (usually only small amounts) more frequently as early as one week after conception. You may also feel an overwhelming craving for certain foods — sometimes unusual items such as a desire to suck coal! Some women have reported a metallic taste in their mouth during pregnancy and you may also develop a strong dislike for foods you used to enjoy. A heightened sense of smell is a common sensation — to the point of becoming nauseous when you smell things that wouldn’t normally bother you.
If you can answer yes to some of the above, you may have already started on your great adventure. Good luck and many blessings on you for doing the best for your baby and yourselves.