Preparing for Pregnancy
Over the past few months my interest in fertility has increased. I’m at the age where many women get married and begin thinking about starting a family. Many people believe that taking folic acid, is the be all and end all of prenatal preparation. While folic acid is important, a healthy pregnancy goes beyond a prenatal vitamin. In fact, about 12 months should be spent preparing your body for pregnancy!
Know your cycle
Being intimate doesn’t always lead to a planned (or spontaneous) pregnancy. Especially since a woman’s cycle hits a sweet spot about mid-way through her cycle — known as the ovulatory period. Women are fertile about 1-2 days before their ovulatory period. To establish this time, ideally a woman should be experiencing regular cycles. Cycles can be tracked a variety of ways, my favourite being the period tracker app as it will give you an indication of your typical cycles and can help you determine if anything is abnormal.
While supplementing with a good quality prenatal vitamin (without fillers, colours, and toxic compounds) is a great way to get the recommended daily intake of certain nutrients (like folate), focusing on a whole foods diet is key. Vitamins B, C, D, and E are important for female fertility in their own way, along with selenium, glutathione, cysteine, omega 3 fatty acids and other minerals.
Many women of reproductive age are either overweight or obese (determined by the Body Mass Index). This can affect gestational age, C-section rate, birth defects, as well as the potential for obesity and diabetes in children (in adult age). Because obesity can lead to lower pregnancy rates, a BMI between 20-34 is recommended for reproductive-age women. Simple ways to help improve BMI is through nutrition by implementing a whole-foods and unprocessed diet, and through exercise. Similarly, women with low BMIs (under 19) may not be able to support a pregnancy due to low body fat.
Many of our favourite fruits and vegetables contain pesticides (which can lead to a variety of health concerns including hormone disruption). The Environmental Working Group has prepared a list of popular produce items and divided some of them into Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen to highlight what should purchased organic and what doesn’t need to be organic. Moreover smoking, alcohol and caffeine have been shown to also decrease fertility rate.
Make sure you go for your annual physical and have your doctor run a few lab tests, as iron and thyroid status may affect pregnancy outcomes.
What can you do if you’re looking to get pregnant within the next year?
- Begin to chart your menstrual cycle to determine if it’s normal and to determine when you are fertile and ovulating.
- Consider taking a prenatal vitamin. Yes, there are tons of options at a drug store — but you want something that’s high quality and has active ingredients
- Go for your annual physical and blood test – implement any changes if required. Are you overweight? Consider a whole food diet, begin to go for walks with your partner. Is your iron low? Increase it through diet or supplementation (looking for something that’s high quality)
- Decrease your toxic burden. Which foods are you eating off the Dirty Dozen? Choose their organic counterparts. Do you smoke? Start your process of quitting.
About 1 in 6 couples in Canada experience infertility, and this number has doubled since the 80s! For women under the age of 35, infertility is considered if you’re unable to conceive after 1 year of trying. For women over the age of 35, infertility is considered if you’re unable to conceive after 6 months of trying. Many women don’t talk about their struggles and often seek advice through Dr. Google to determine what they can do and natural supplement to take to increase their chances. If you choose to go the natural route (and there are plenty of things you can do), speak to a healthcare professional who can provide you with the right information specific to you and your concerns. That’s something Dr. Google can’t do.