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Preparing for Pregnancy
The truth is that as many as 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned, and the majority of those pregnancies, labours, and postpartum periods go just fine, but there are definitely ways that you can get your body and mind to an optimum level of health in preparation for a planned pregnancy. Doing so can increase your likelihood of getting pregnant when planned, it can make pregnancy itself easier and more enjoyable, better prepare you for the work of labour, and enable you to recover more quickly from pregnancy and birth and rebuild your stores (which you’ll need for months of breastfeeding!). Much of pregnancy, labour, and postpartum is unpredictable, so why not arm yourself so you can better manage whatever type of experience you’re given?
Fertility is becoming a difficult issue, as we are dealing with a population of older women who are trying to conceive their first baby, in addition to the greater incidences of obesity, and PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), both of which present a challenge when attempting to conceive. Add into the equation the overuse of hormonal methods of contraception (particularly extended use of a birth control pill), and you have a large number of women wanting to get pregnant with some form of obstacle. When it comes to fertility, the most important things to consider are maintaining a healthy weight through adequate regular exercise and a healthy, balanced, whole foods diet, and keeping track of your menstrual cycle, and if necessary, charting various stages of your cycle using a fertility awareness program such as “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”. If you’ve been on long-term hormonal birth control, you may consider doing a cleanse to promote appropriate circulating hormone levels and thus a return to a normal cycle. A cleanse is actually a great idea for anyone trying to get pregnant because it clears the liver (and the tissues of your body in general) of any excess toxins or metabolites, resulting in optimal function of all of your organs, particularly the endocrine system.
In addition, it’s important to incorporate healthy fats into your diet and consider adding extra EFA’s (essential fatty acids) in either liquid or encapsulated form. Not only do EFA’s promote menstrual cycles, but they also help balance cycle-related mood disorders and thus reduce the incidence of pregnancy related depression or postpartum depression. Additionally, they are important for fetal brain development. Another supplement that can help with pregnancy and postpartum related mood swings are B vitamins. I will often recommend a good B complex to my clients that are at higher risk of postpartum depression. The final thing I’ll mention with respect to mental health is the importance of being aware of the risks of antidepressants on developing babies and considering reducing or eliminating with the close guidance of both your doctor and your therapist. The worst time to just quit your antidepressant medication cold turkey is during your pregnancy so it’s ideal to get your mental health in check before your pregnancy, if possible.
Pregnancy, and then breastfeeding, is pretty taxing on the body. In preparation for growing, and then feeding another person, it’s a nice idea to build up your minerals, ensuring you have adequate calcium and iron levels. It’s also a great idea to ensure optimal vitamin D levels, through testing and supplementing if necessary. These are even more important if you’re planning a second or third (or fourth!) pregnancy as it can often take up to a full year or even longer to rebuild your stores after a pregnancy. Also, it’s important to note that your caloric requirements are greater in breastfeeding than in pregnancy. And while this may sound like an open invitation to indulge in every treat that strikes your fancy, what it really means is protein, protein, protein and water, water, water.
The final piece to preparing for a pregnancy, in my mind, is having an established exercise plan or routine. Exercise is important for all of us, but pregnant women in particular. Being pregnant comes with many physical challenges that are frequently better met by healthy, active people. If you have activities or exercises that you routinely do before pregnancy, you are more likely to continue them into and through pregnancy, and replace them should they become too difficult to do. Pregnancy is an endurance event, and labour, an ultramarathon so train for it with a healthy diet and exercise just like you would any other event. I would caution you not to get too caught up in staying “fit” through your pregnancy. Your body will change; it’s inevitable. Fitness in pregnancy and the initial postpartum period means something different than it does to super athletes or even some recreational athletes. Don’t overdo it, don’t try and limit the amount of weight you gain by restricting your diet, and don’t do any exercises that your body is telling you not to. Nurture your body and the baby will soon be growing.
Enjoy this time preparing for the baby and good luck!