A holistic approach to pregnancy involves so much more than just the 9 months of gestation. It is the whole process of preparing your body, mind and the family environment to create the best possible foundations before bringing a new life into the world.
The preparation time is for both partners to be actively involved in as you work together to build a strong, healthy family. There are many things surrounding pregnancy that we, unfortunately, can’t control, but there is a lot to be said for taking the time to prioritise both physical and mental health before and during pregnancy.
While no one is ever going to be 100% ready to have a baby, I do believe that there is a lot to be said for taking the time to make sure you’ve got the most important factors crossed off. I’ve put together a list of the 8 most important things you need to do before you start trying.
1. Find A Good GP
Checking in with your GP before falling pregnancy is really important. If you don’t have a GP, now is a great time to find one you like and establish a relationship with them. Lots of people jump around from GP to GP which can be problematic as it is a lot harder to monitor patients without having a full history. Being able to reach out to a GP that knows you and can be not only time-saving but is also important for your long term health care. They’ll be many questions that pop up throughout your pregnancy, so use this time to find someone you are comfortable with.
2. Get Some Tests Done
There are a few standard medical tests that are essential to ensure the health of yourself and bub. Your GP will be able to organise these tests for you and they are covered by Medicare. Make sure your partner is also up to date with any medical checks. It’s a team effort and you both need to be actively involved.
There are some other tests that can help to determine nutritional status, nutrigenomics and overall health. While not all of the tests are essential for everyone, many of them are useful in screening for nutritional adequacy and potential toxicities - things that definitely need identifying and resolving prior to falling pregnant. If you have any previous history of toxicity or have been on a restricted diet, these tests are really beneficial.
3. Look At Your Diet and Lifestyle
If there was ever a time to really focus on your diet, it’s now. You can’t underestimate the power of food and it is now well established that improving nutritional status prior to pregnancy has a positive influence on a baby’s development and future health. Keep it natural, full of variety and opt for organic, seasonal produce where possible. If you are confused or unsure about what you should be eating, make sure you check in with a practitioner who can help.
Make movement a part of your every day and ensure you are getting enough sleep every night. If stress is a big part of your life, start practising stress reduction and find a coping mechanism that helps keep you centred.
4. Assess Your Environment
You aren’t going to be able to control every aspect of your environment, but you can reduce your exposures. I would focus on what you are being exposed to the most. For a lot of women, this is fragrances. It’s in your personal care products, dishwashing liquid, laundry products and air freshers. All synthetic fragrances are endocrine disruptors, which alter how our hormones function and can have negative effects on fertility. We are now lucky enough to have plenty of natural alternatives that make reducing your toxic load that bit easier.
5. Start Supplementation
While the majority of required nutrients we need for optimal health can be met by eating a balanced and varied whole foods diet, when it comes to pregnancy additional support is really important (in addition to a great diet). Preconception and pregnancy supplementation helps women to meet the additional physiological demands on the body during this time so that there are sufficient stores available to nourish a mother and her developing baby.
There are a few key nutrients that are essential as you prepare for pregnancy (folate, a good quality fish oil and a pregnancy probiotic are my non-negotiables), however, some people (males included) may require additional support based on various different factors, especially during the preparation period. I always recommended discussing your own personal situation with a practitioner.
6. Get To Know Your Cycle
Our cycle is so much more than simply achieving or avoiding pregnancy. As women, we need the cascade of hormones that cause our cycle to happen for many other aspects of our health. Our hormones tend to talk about most in regards to fertility and periods, but our hormones have so many beneficial and important roles within the body. To be our healthiest selves, we need healthy hormones and for us to make hormones, we need a period. Happy cycle = healthy (and fertile!) you.
There are a number of apps now that help you track your cycle so you can understand what is happening and when. Paying closer attention to your cycle may also help you identify if something isn’t quite right and needs closer attention.
If you have been on hormonal contraception such as the oral contraceptive pill or IUD it is important to try and give your body time to process the synthetic hormones and resettle into its own rhythm before trying to conceive.
My favourite apps are: ‘Clue’ and ‘Kindara’.
7. Address Any Underlying Conditions
If you have been struggling with any niggling conditions or symptoms, now is the time to get them sorted. Fertility is a very multifaceted and there are so many aspects our health that can either help or hinder your chance of falling pregnant. You don’t need to panic and completely overhaul your life, but consider aspects of your health that may need a bit of TLC and seek professional guidance. The main areas I see in clinic that need working on prior to pregnancy are gut issues, sleep concerns and hormonal conditions like PCOS or endometriosis.
8. Stay Positive
The first thing a woman says to me when she comes seeking for advice for preconception (yes, usually just the woman) is, I want to get healthy because I have a feeling I’m going to have trouble falling pregnant. I’m always so excited she is forward planning and striving for a healthy pregnancy BUT why do all women automatically assume they are going to have trouble conceiving?! There is a huge psychological component to this and of course, some couples will struggle. I believe though, with a little forward planning, optimal nutrition, adequate movement and rest, you will conceive when your body is ready to create, grow, nurture this child.
The best advice I can ultimately give you is to take a few deep breaths, know you're heading the right direction and have confidence in what your body is capable of. If you are struggling with any aspects of the preconception period make sure you reach out. It can take time, but there are plenty many people that can support you along the way.