When couples start planning a pregnancy, naturally they make changes to their lifestyle in order to give their baby the best possible chance.
But how far in advance should we focus on pre-pregnancy health? While the standard three months is often considered adequate, many experts recommend taking longer to get ready.
When to get healthy
There is much to consider when planning a family, emotionally, physically and financially. However, our health is definitely an important factor. According to the Office on Women Heath at the US Department of Health & Human Services, “By taking action on health issues and risks before pregnancy, you can prevent problems that might affect you or your baby later.”
As with many experts, the organisation advises making lifestyle changes at least three months in advance with recommendations such as taking folic acid, cutting out drinking and smoking, avoiding toxic substances and making sure any medical condition you might have is under control.
Weight is another important part of pre-pregnancy health.
“Women who are overweight or obese may be at risk of pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage, fetal abnormalities, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia,” states The Royal Women’s Hospital, Victoria.
“Women with obesity also risk complications during labour and birth and are more likely to have a caesarean section. Weight can also impact on your ability to conceive.”
However, the hospital acknowledges that losing weight can be challenging and not something that necessarily happens quickly: “Our body image and relationship with food are often psychologically and emotionally complex and it can be very difficult for women to simply lose weight, no matter what the reason.”
3 months isn’t enough
Grace Dugdale, a reproductive biologist from Balance Fertility recently spoke at the Manchester Fertility Conference on the importance of nutrition. She says she does not believe that three months is enough time to make the changes to diet and lifestyle, required for pregnancy.
“Couples get married, then they wait until they have problems conceiving before making the changes to their diet and lifestyle that could help them, and it is heartbreaking if they then end up with fertility problems that might have been solved earlier,” said Grace told the Daily Mail. “Basic things like getting their vitamin D checked can make a big difference. If people allowed themselves time to follow a healthy diet and reach a healthy weight earlier, it really would make a difference to so many people.”
Grace talked about the importance of being a healthy weight well before conception.
“It is important to be a healthy weight before conceiving because being overweight can affect egg quality,” she reported. “A mother’s weight and diet around the time of conception and immediately before has a significant effect on the future health of the baby.”
What about dietary deficiencies?
Most women recognise the importance of taking folate well in advance. I know when I was considering getting pregnant, I certainly did. “Folate is especially important in your diet leading up to pregnancy and for the first three months of pregnancy,” states the Royal Women’s Hospital. “This is because folate reduces the baby’s risk of neural tube defects.”
But what about other important vitamins? After falling pregnant, I learnt from my GP that I was actually lacking in iron and vitamin D – so I had to quickly catch up.
That said, Grace warns that many pre-conception tablets sold may not always have the right ingredients to correct any deficiencies you might have.
“The standard advice is to allow three months before conception to take folic acid and live healthily, but that does not give people enough time to make the necessary changes.”