Conception - Health & Wellbeing
Choosing to have a child is a major life decision — perhaps the biggest one you'll ever make. Certainly, becoming a parent will change your life profoundly. As you contemplate being a mum or dad you are likely to be experiencing an array of emotions, a mixture of longing, excitement and anxiety. Doubts and questions are common: will I be a good enough parent? How will I cope with the tiredness? What if I don't have any parenting instincts? Will I resent having to always put my child's needs first? While it is impossible to be prepared for all of the emotional and physical changes you will experience, a little thought and preparation can be very beneficial. By preparing yourself physically and emotionally for a pregnancy, you can be sure to give yourself and your baby the best possible chance to be healthy and happy.
As soon as you make the life changing decision to start trying for baby, the most important thing you can do is make an appointment with your doctor. As each mum-to-be will have a different experience with pregnancy, it is extremely beneficial to talk to a professional for some advice that is specific to you, and your own body. Your GP will be able to answer any questions you have about both becoming pregnant and pregnancy in general, and many more that you wouldn’t even think to ask, as well as providing advice as to how you should proceed in your prenatal health plan.
There are many factors involved with your current physical health, as well as previous and recurring conditions that will affect your experience with conceiving. Your doctor will also enquire about any existing or genetic conditions that might occur within your family, and help to arrange support, advice and preventative treatments to assist with any worries or concerns you might have.
It is important that dad-to-be also talks with a healthcare professional. A baby is made up of both mum and dad’s genes, and any pre-existing conditions that dad might carry will be a factor in planning out your pregnancy as well. Dad’s diet, lifestyle habits and mental health will also affect your experiences with conceiving.
Some existing conditions such as Diabetes, Asthma, High Blood Pressure, Epilepsy and a variety of others can affect your ease of conception. Your doctor can advise you of any medical treatments and/or lifestyle choices that may need to be modified to increase your chances of conceiving successfully and having a healthy pregnancy. Certain congenital defects and physical conditions can increase the risk involved in carrying a baby to term, and might require extra medical care from a specialist doctor in addition to your obstetrician. The earlier that the risk can be identified the more time your medical support team has to formulate your treatment plan.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
It is important to remember that becoming pregnant will change not only your body physically, but will also impact exponentially on your emotional wellbeing and mental health in general. Having a baby will change your life on an all-encompassing scale, starting from the day you first start considering growing your family.
It can be helpful for both prospective Mums and Dads to read and learn about what they can expect regarding their emotional and mental health during the conception process, and to educate themselves in ways to support each other and themselves through this vast stretch of new experiences. Talking to family members, friends, and even experts about different challenges that may arise can be a vital step in your parenting preparation.
It is also important to be aware that you cannot prepare for everything, and part of being a parent is accepting that there are many experiences that can, and may, occur during your new life. Being open and talking about things like unexpected health complications, emotional and relationship issues, financial difficulties and sudden lifestyle changes is an important step in recognizing that there is a problem and finding a way to work through them.
Diet and Nutrition
There are lots of theories floating around about what you should and should not eat once you are pregnant, but it is important to think about your own diet and nutrition before you conceive as well. Starting to stock your body with the vitamins and nutrients that will help your baby thrive will not only make sure you have an abundance of them once you are pregnant, but will also benefit you yourself now.
The best thing to do is make sure you are eating healthily for an adult in general, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, recommended amounts of dairy, protein and fibre to keep your body functioning at its highest state. This includes cutting back on sugary, high fat foods such as fast foods, and being aware of the hidden dangers that some foods may hold. When attempting to fall pregnant, some women find it beneficial to start eating in the manner they will once they are in fact pregnant. Some information on foods that should be avoided and the risks involved with them are below.
Some types of fish are high in mercury, which can accumulate in your body for up to a year and be dangerous for your baby once you conceive, and should be avoided. The most common type of fish to avoid is shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish (although there are other, less commonly consumed fish that you should avoid). Low mercury fish like salmon and canned light tuna are recommended to eat once or twice a week for omega. Make sure any fish that is consumed is cooked to a ‘well-done’ standard to limit chances of bacterial food poisoning.
Processed, raw and smoked meats should be avoided entirely; this includes pates, meat spreads and deli meats. Any meat, or poultry, and even eggs, which are consumed should be cooked to a ‘well-done’ standard to limit chances of bacterial food poisoning.
It is recommended to avoid eating pre-prepared food and ‘left-over’ food when pregnant.
Unpasteurized foods such as soft cheeses (goat cheese, brie, blue, camembert), Mexican style cheeses (queso fresco, queso blanco), unpasteurized juices and ‘raw’ milk should be avoided at all costs during pregnancy. Hard cheeses such as tasty or cheddar cheese are considered safe to consume while pregnant, as are other pasteurized dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cream.
You can supplement your daily intake with a multi-vitamin (make sure it doesn’t contain too much vitamin A, unless it is in a form called beta-carotene. Too much of a certain kind of vitamin A can cause birth defects), folic acid (this is widely recognized to cut chances of having a baby with neural-tube defects like spina bifida) and vitamin D (regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body and helps to prevent bone softening and rickets in babies).
If you are a vegetarian, vegan, or follow a restricted diet because of food intolerance (for example, gluten free/coeliac) or religious reasons, it is important for you to talk to your GP about being referred to a dietitian or nutritionist for advice on the best way to make sure you are stocking your body with the best building blocks for your baby.
Exercise and Lifestyle
You may need to assess certain factors within your personal lifestyle when it comes to falling pregnant. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, limiting the amounts of unnecessary stress in your life, quitting smoking and taking any recreational drugs and monitoring your alcoholic intake are all important steps on the path to being the best future parent you can be to your child.
When you consult your healthcare professional they will advise you about whether you need to lose or gain weight to be in your ideal range, and formulate a healthy plan to do so without crash dieting, as this can deplete your nutritional stores and be detrimental to your future pregnancy. You should start an exercise plan that is realistic, and that you will follow even after conceiving. You can find more information in our article on pregnancy and exercise.