As Jennie discussed last monthin her article Speed Bumbs on the Road from Bump to Baby, research is now showing that your child’s future health, including their risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, may be influenced by your own lifestyle habits, before they are even conceived.
With that in mind, the following are the habits worth focusing on before you start trying to conceive.
- Aim for a healthy weight. Carrying excess weight can affect fertility (in both partners) and may increase the risk of your child having weight problems later in life. The good news is that even moderate weight loss (5-10% of your weight) can improve fertility and reduce health risks for you and your baby. But avoid restrictive diets and rapid weight loss - instead aim for a healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss of around 0.5kg per week.
- Optimise your eating habits. Eating well prior to conception can improve fertility and ensure that your nutritional stores are at optimum levels when you fall pregnant as well as ensuring your baby gets all the nutrients he or she needs in their first few weeks if life. A father’s diet is important too.
- Get moving. Exercising regularly before you fall pregnant has been shown to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes (diabetes in pregnancy) and can help with weight management. Being fit will also help your body cope with the extra demands of pregnancy.
- Supplement safely. Women who are trying to conceive should take a folic acid supplement providing 500 micrograms per day (more if you are at higher risk) and an iodine supplement providing 150 micrograms per day. These nutrients are particularly important for your baby’s development and folate can reduce the risk of birth defects. The evidence for other supplements is lacking but if you do take them it is best to choose a pre-natal or pregnancy multivitamin & mineral, as other supplements, including herbal preparations, may not be safe in pregnancy.
- Avoid or limit alcohol. Excessive alcohol intake can affect fertility in both partners, and during pregnancy can harm your unborn baby and increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Since you won’t know you are pregnant in the first few weeks, when your baby’s organs are already starting to form, it is best to avoid alcohol when you are trying to conceive. It is particularly important to avoid binge drinking.
- Cut down on caffeine. A moderate intake of caffeine should not affect fertility but too much caffeine during pregnancy may increase your chances of having a miscarriage, premature birth or a low birthweight baby. If you are a big consumer of caffeine, start cutting down as soon as you begin trying to conceive. Remember that coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine – it is also found in tea, cola drinks, energy drinks and chocolate.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking can reduce fertility in both males and females and pregnant women who smoke have a higher risk of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, premature birth and stillbirth. Babies born to smoking mothers also have a greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). It is important that your partner quits too as exposure to second-hand smoke can also increase the risk of SIDS and having a low birthweight baby.
The Bump to Baby Diet outlines in detail the important steps you can take to optimize your lifestyle before conception. But while planning your pregnancy has obvious benefits for you and your baby, we all know that things don’t always go to plan! So if you find yourself pregnant without any prior preparation, remember that most babies are born healthy, even if they are not planned. Adopting health habits from today will still do a lot to ensure the health of both you and your baby. In the next issue of our newsletter we will discuss the lifestyle habits that are important once you fall pregnant.
Following this article is Optimising Your Lifestyle During Pregnancy by the same author.
Dr Kate Marsh is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and Credentialled Diabetes Educator and co-author of the Bump to Baby Diet (Hachette Australia, 2012).
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