You’ve probably considered that you’ll need to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle once you become pregnant, but what about before? There are certain things that you and your partner can do now, before you conceive, that are important.
It Takes Two
Getting healthy prior to conception provides the best start in life for your baby. In the past, physicians thought that only the health and lifestyle of the mother-to-be impacted the unborn baby, but research demonstrates the importance of these factors for fathers, too.
The sooner you make changes toward a more balanced and nutritious diet, the better for both you and your baby. Here are steps you can take:
*Increase folic acid intake to at least 400 mcg/day. Folic acid in early pregnancy (i.e. in the first four weeks) reduces neural tube defects by at least 50 percent. Many women don’t even know they’re pregnant during this critical time in fetal development; therefore, it’s best to start taking a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin before you conceive.
*Eat a balanced diet. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole-grain breads and cereals, and increase your calcium intake.
*Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy has been linked to several serious health problems including low birthweight, miscarriage and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
*Avoid artificial sweeteners and caffeine found in chocolate, soda and coffee.
Research demonstrates a healthy diet affects male fertility as well. It’s easier if both mom and dad make a commitment to improve food choices.
*Increase vitamin C in your diet to reduce the risk of damaged sperm.
*Boost your zinc intake. Zinc is found in extra-lean ground beef, baked beans and dark chicken meat. Short-term zinc deficiencies have been linked to reduced semen volume and testosterone levels.
*Take a multivitamin and CoQ10 daily. This may promote healthy sperm production and viability.
There are things in your environment that may present a potential danger to your unborn child. As you prepare to become pregnant, consider the following:
*Avoid toxic chemicals, such as insecticides, solvents (e.g. paint thinners), lead and mercury.
*Don’t handle cat litter, as it can cause toxoplasmosis. If you must handle cat litter, wear gloves and wash your hands well afterward.
*Check with your physician to make sure current medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) won’t interfere with your pregnancy.
*Prolonged exposure to certain substances, such as benzene, lead, ethylene oxide, mercury and other chemicals may affect sperm count.
*Avoid radiation and electromagnetic fields, as these may impact fertility and conception.
*Visit your doctor and dentist for a check-up. Take care of any medical or dental conditions, such as immunizations and cavities. If you have diabetes, hypertension or other disorders, try to optimize control prior to conception.
*Quit smoking or taking drugs. Not only do these threaten the health of your unborn child, but they aren’t good for you either.
*Achieve your ideal body weight. Pregnancy is not the time to diet, nor is it healthy to be underweight. In conjunction with your new healthy eating plan, design an exercise program that meets your needs and you can stick to. Consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
In addition to nutrition and environmental exposures, there are lifestyle factors that may influence the health of your partner’s sperm. Men should try to avoid:
*Smoking. Not only does it reduce the amount of sperm available, but second-hand smoke is dangerous for your partner and your unborn baby.
*Recreational drugs. Long-term use has been linked to low sperm count, not to mention other health risks, such as the potential to contract HIV.
*Certain activities—such as the use of hot tubs and saunas, wearing tight-fitting clothes, avid cycling, stress and certain medications—have been associated with lower sperm count.
If at First You Don’t Succeed
Try, try again, and don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen right away. Approximately 85 percent of couples trying to conceive do so within 12 months of stopping birth control. If you have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a year or more, a fertility evaluation may be warranted. Contact your provider for more information. We’ll be happy to help!