So, you’ve decided that you’re ready to have a baby. Congratulations! While you may be eager to start trying immediately, there are a few tips and practices to take into consideration before you get started.
From knowing when to go off birth control to determining what foods and types of exercise are best for your body, it’s likely that your mind is racing with tons of questions about how to get your body ready for a healthy and happy pregnancy.
We met with Radhika Kakarla, MD, an OB/GYN at Paoli Hospital, part of Main Line Health, to learn all about getting your body ready for pregnancy.
Going off birth control
Whether you’re taking hormonal birth control (such as the pill, Nuvaring, or the patch) or non-hormonal contraception (like an IUD) you’ll want to carefully plan how and when to go off birth control.
Dr. Kakarla recommends discontinuing use of hormonal contraception about three months before you plan to get pregnant. “There’s increased risk of super-ovulation as soon as you get off the pill […] and also an increased risk of miscarriage that can happen because the lining of the uterus is thin,” she says.
If you have a non-hormonal IUD, like Paragard, aim to remove it at least one month before trying to conceive. By giving yourself a few months free of birth control, you can let your uterus lining thicken up again and get a sense for your natural ovulation cycle.
Taking prenatal vitamins
In general, it’s best to start taking prenatal vitamins before conception so that you have a strong supply of vitamins and minerals. In fact, women should start taking them three months before they plan to get pregnant, as this is when the egg starts maturing.
Dr. Kakarla advises her patients to take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid as part of their prenatal vitamin routine. Folic acid supplies the egg with the nutrients it needs in the earliest stages to help aid development and prevent serious birth defects.
Adjusting your diet
Adjusting your diet can play a large role in getting your body ready for pregnancy. Additionally, the food and beverages you consume soon before conceiving can have an impact on your ability to get pregnant. For example, drugs and alcohol can significantly increase your risk of infertility, and too much caffeine can decrease your chances of getting pregnant.
It’s crucial for women to maintain a healthy diet, as obesity (which is indicated by a BMI greater than 35) can double the time it takes to conceive. Even though there is limited evidence that certain diets increase fertility, Dr. Kakarla recommends sticking to a balanced diet low in processed foods and high in lean proteins and plant-based foods (think fruits and veggies) while getting your body ready for pregnancy. Additionally, be wary of your seafood consumption, since eating too much can elevate your mercury levels, which can ultimately decrease fertility.
If you’re into running, yoga, or strength training, you may be wondering if you can continue working out while trying to conceive. Good news: If you’re in relatively good shape, you don’t need to stop exercising. However, it’s crucial to have enough body fat to ovulate, so aim to have a BMI over 17. Being significantly over or underweight can greatly affect your ability to conceive.
There are many wonderful benefits to exercising before and during pregnancy, especially since it can help women prepare for all the physical demands and bodily changes incurred with pregnancy. For example, yoga and strength training can help women maintain flexibility and good posture, which can become increasingly difficult throughout pregnancy.
Dr. Kakarla recommends getting cardio exercise three times a week in addition to using proper form and movement to build strength in your back and core, which are two areas that experience a great deal of strain during pregnancy.
Managing stress and pressure
Many women tend to carry a ton of stress and pressure with them, especially as they prepare their bodies for pregnancy. There may be stress from work, stress from relationships, and, of course, stress from simply trying to get pregnant. Unfortunately, all of that stress can lead to increased cortisol levels, which can affect your ovulation cycle and, consequently, your ability to conceive.
So, how can you manage stress and get your body ready for pregnancy? Certain exercises, like yoga, have been proven to significantly reduce stress, as they release endorphins, which boost your sense of happiness and wellbeing. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can lower stress levels and aid in relaxation as well.
Adjusting for pre-existing conditions
Certain pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, or cardiac diseases, may require special attention to ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery. To learn how to manage these conditions before and throughout pregnancy, it’s best to consult directly with your primary care physician since the best course of action for every woman’s body can be different.
If you’re planning becoming pregnant, make appointments with both your primary care physician and your obstetrician ahead of time. Your clinical team can review your medical history and make additional recommendations to ensure you get the prenatal care you need.
As you plan your pregnancy, remember to find an obstetrician who is right for you and stay informed about your fertility options.
Do you have any other tips for how to get your body ready for pregnancy? Share them with us in the comments.
Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.