Before you decide to “jump off the deep end” and have a baby you need to understand that having a baby is an exercise in sacrifice and discipline. It’s a decision that comes with a lot of responsibility. Start by examining areas in your life that need to improve for the health of your baby and for your personal well being as a mom (and a dad). Here are some of the biggest things I believe you should modify before trying to conceive.
Believe me, I enjoy a glass of red wine or a beer every now and then. Before my husband and I talked about trying for a baby, I drank 2-3 times a week. Once we made a commitment to conception I dropped my alcohol intake to one glass every month. Experts do not know what the safe level of alcohol consumption is for a developing baby so many recommend avoiding alcohol altogether. This quote from the American Pregnancy Association is one that really stuck with me while we were planning to conceive:
“… although you have a greater chance of harming your baby the more alcohol you drink, even small or moderate amounts still pose a risk…no amount of alcohol has been deemed safe in pregnancy and it will certainly not benefit your baby. The best it could do is not pose any harm.”
Alcohol can pass to your developing baby through the placenta and can interfere with how the brain and spinal cord cells form as the baby grows. This can lead to some very difficult complications including low birth weight, premature birth and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Because your baby’s heart, arms, legs, eyes and central nervous system develop around 4 weeks past conception limiting your consumption of alcohol before conception will give your baby the best possible start in life and reduce the possibility of birth defects.
For men: It’s a good idea for dads-to-be to cut back on alcohol as well, consuming no more than one beer or one glass of hard liquor per night, beginning 3 months before trying to conceive. Sperm takes 2-3 months to grow from a juvenile to an adult stage. If your man is consuming a lot of alcohol multiple nights a week, he is lowering his sperm count and damaging the effectiveness of the sperm that are able to mature. Sperm behave according to your diet and drunk sperm have a very difficult time finding and penetrating a woman’s egg.
Ladies, you know that smoking is bad for your baby. How bad can it be? Smoke inhalation is the number one cause of birth complications today. My mother smoked cigarettes while she was pregnant with me and I was born 3.5 months early with a low birth weight! My mom and dad watched me through a glass wall for months while I was in the neonatal unit being fed oxygen. They didn’t get to hold me at birth and had no idea whether I was going to live or die. Don’t let that happen to you, please. It’s an experience that has given my mother nightmares to this day. It was one of the scariest experiences of her life.
Cigarettes, cigars and vapes contain over 4,000 chemicals all of which pass to your baby through your bloodstream when you smoke. Complications like still birth, premature birth and low birth weight occur because both you and your baby are being deprived of oxygen. Even recreational drugs like marijuana, which carry the myth that they are better for babies because they are natural, significantly decrease the oxygen supply in your body. Your baby is literally fighting for air. There is a greater chance that they will have underdeveloped lungs and organs, heart defects, asthma and behavioral problems.
For men: Smoking is not just a problem with women – it’s important for men to quit for the health of the baby. Second-hand smoke may be damaging for a mother and her child and can lead to premature birth. Men who smoke anything will encounter fertility problems. Smoke inhalation, even marijuana, lowers the motility and health of sperm. Even if the sperm find the egg and conception occurs, there is a much greater chance that the embryo will result in miscarriage than if both partners quit smoking.
Drug & Prescription Abuse
If you abuse drugs, you know it. There’s no need for me to list all of the drugs in this category. I will clarify that I’m focusing on all illegal substances and prescription pill abuse. Abuse of these substances should be taken very seriously. I’ve dealt with addictions in the past and I know how hard they can be to quit. With the right help an addiction-free lifestyle is in your grasp. If you are addicted or consuming any illicit drug think about how it will harm your child.
Moms who use illicit drugs are more likely to have babies born with low birth weights or premature birth. Your risk of miscarriage and stillbirth is much higher than it would be otherwise. Because you’re ingesting chemicals and/or natural poisons your baby has an increased chance of being born with birth and heart defects. Your baby could be born addicted to a drug themselves and it is very painful to watch your baby withdrawal from drug addiction at birth.
If you are taking an illicit drug please get help before trying to conceive. It’s not fair to your baby. If you have already conceived don’t quit cold turkey. You need to wean off drugs with the help of a professional to avoid shocking your system.
For men: Illicit drug use has very negative effects on the quality and quantity of sperm. Heavy drug use can even lead to infertility. Consider your partner. If you are both trying to quit, think about how hard it will be for her to make good lifestyle choices while you continue to bring drugs in the home. A partnership is about mutual support and you can strengthen that partnership by getting help for your addictions together.
I love coffee. I used to work in a coffee shop about 5 years ago and coffee was the great love of my life. The smell of freshly ground coffee beans is heavenly. Experts can’t agree on whether excessive caffeine consumption will effect your ability to have a baby. Too much caffeine can make you jittery and disturb your sleep patterns though, so the recommended amount while trying to conceive is 12 ounces a day. That’s one mug of regular strength coffee.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about limiting caffeine consumption, so if you drink soda, coffee and tea you want to chart how much caffeine is in each of those drinks. As a general rule you want to keep your caffeine levels under 300 mg a day.
For men: Once again, researchers can’t seem to agree whether caffeine has a definitive effect on sperm health and mobility. Some studies suggest small amounts of caffeine actually speed up sperm movement. Other’s show that large amounts of caffeine lower the amount of sperm that a man is able to produce. To be safe, stick with 12 ounces (or 300 mg) per day.
Monitor Your Environment
The things that you breathe in and surround yourselves with everyday can play a big part in the health of your future pregnancy. You’ll want to examine your work and living environment to make sure that you’re not exposing yourself to any harmful chemicals. If you work with cleaning products on a regular basis, switch to a natural alternative. X-rays, CT scans, lead and metal detectors can all pose risks to your health when you’re trying to have a baby. Good news: If you own cats you’re free of littler box duty. Cat feces have been shown to pose health risks for conception as well.
For men: If you are exposed to hazardous chemicals or radiation at work it could effect your fertility and the number of sperm you can produce. Consider finding a safer work environment or making temporary arrangements with your employer if you are trying to conceive. Remember that sperm take 2-3 months to mature, so you’ll want to start these changes well in advance of conception.
I’ve already discussed the nutrition requirements for pregnant women in a separate post but why is proper nutrition so important? Ladies, it really helps you and your baby to eat well. You will feel so much better throughout your pregnancy, have less complications during birth and experience less severe pregnancy symptoms. Poor nutrition will lower your ability to successfully become pregnant. Eating heavily processed foods will increase your risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Think about it this way – if you’re eating a lot of junk food regularly, so is your baby. That kind of nutrition is devoid of minerals and full of empty calories. That is the exact opposite of what your developing baby requires for proper growth.
Are suffering from a fast food or processed food addiction? I encourage you to start cooking for yourself. You will eat healthier meals, your portions will be smaller and you will receive more nutrition from home cooking than processed foods. I am also giving you permission to eat sweets a few times a week as long as you bake them yourself. Homemade sweets have less preservatives, fillers and are less “instant” than processed sweets. You’ll find yourself eating less of them if you bake them yourself. If your serious about your health take up the challenge to bake your own desserts. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish and I guarantee you’ll feel better in no time.
For men: A poor diet will really effect the quality and quantity of a man’s sperm. A BBC study from a fertility clinic showed that men who consume fast food regularly have a 43% decrease in sperm production and a 38% decrease in sperm concentration. This really affects a man’s ability to conceive a child. When you begin to eat healthy together as a couple you will have more success conceiving as a couple.
Eating disorders are a serious issue for many women and should be addressed with a professional before conception. Women who struggle with anorexia or bulimia often have a low body mass index (BMI) and may not have regular periods. Their bodies are desperately conserving nutrients to survive. To ensure survival, the body stops ovulating. These women may have a very hard time getting pregnant. Should they become pregnant the disorder might stop them from gaining adequate weight. In the long run poor nutrition will jeopardize the pregnancy. You can calculate your BMI easily online. If you have a BMI that is less than 18.5 you need to seek the help of a professional so they can help you gain an adequate amount of weight before conception can occur.
Women who are overweight face other issues. A woman who is obese or engages in binge eating places herself at greater risk for gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and delivery complications during birth. These women have a much greater risk of miscarriage, preterm birth and stillbirth. They might get less information from ultrasounds and sonograms because these tools can’t read accurately through a thick layer of fat. Babies conceived by obese women might be too large because of excessive consumption of calories during pregnancy. These babies have a much greater chance of being injured at birth. If you have a BMI that is over 30, you need to seek out a professional who can help you monitor your weight gain throughout pregnancy. Pregnancy is not a good time to lose weight. Getting your health in order before conception is essential.
For Men: Male anorexia and obesity is something that most people don’t talk about but it’s common in our society. These men have lower sperm counts, issues with sperm motility and diminished sperm concentration. Men with an extremely low BMI might even be infertile. These men should seek out the help of a professional before conception occurs.
The Bottom Line
Please take this section seriously – you cannot give your baby any greater gift than a strong, loving start at birth. If you make an effort to modify these areas of your life now not only will you have a much smoother pregnancy you’ll have a greater chance of carrying your baby to full term. Your little baby will be much healthier than they would have been if you nurtured a harmful environment in your womb or fed them toxic substances, like nicotine, alcohol and drugs. Click here for ways to change these harmful habits today!
How have you worked to clean up your lifestyle for your pregnancy? Any struggles? Chat about it in the comments below!