Pregnancy may last 40 weeks, but you won’t be back to your pre-pregnancy physical condition for at least a few months after you deliver. You can lessen that time by heading into your pregnancy in good shape physically, emotionally, and mentally.
The first thing you can do to prepare your body for pregnancy is to increase your folate. Folate is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube and other birth defects. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)recommends women of child-bearing age consume 400 micrograms per day. Folate (or folic acid) is present in many foods, including spinach, rice, asparagus and spaghetti, but most pregnant women need more than what a varied diet provides.
Ask your health care provider to prescribe a prenatal vitamin that includes the proper level of folic acid, or choose an over-the-counter supplement. Taking a multi-vitamin is also a good idea, but no supplement can replace good eating habits. While you are pregnant, some foods may lose their appeal and you may crave others that aren’t as healthy. Starting off with healthy eating habits may help you later in your pregnancy when you aren’t feeling your best.
Being overweight or underweight can cause problems during pregnancy. Women who are underweight may not ovulate regularly, making it harder to conceive. The same problem can occur if you are overweight. Fat causes the release of excess estrogen into the body, which confuses your body’s natural ovulation cycle. According to the March of Dimes, pregnant women who are obese are at a greater risk for pregnancy complications and diseases such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, miscarriage and stillbirth.
If you are concerned about your weight, have an honest discussion with your health care provider. It may be better to lose weight before trying to conceive both for your health and the health of your baby.
No matter what your weight, your pregnancy will be easier if you are in good physical shape. If exercise is new to you, focus on building up cardiovascular endurance by walking, bicycling or using an elliptical machine. Running is a great way to get in shape as well, but may be harder on your body. A strength training program that emphasizes abdominals and back muscles will also be beneficial. Good core strength will make it easier to carry the baby during the pregnancy, and your stomach muscles might remember where to go after the delivery, although chances are your tummy won’t be quite the same!
A few months before you begin trying to conceive, you may want to visit your doctor and get a physical. If you haven’t had your blood pressure, glucose levels or cholesterol checked in some time, do it before you are pregnant. The tests will provide a good baseline in the event that problems occur, and you will have a few months to make lifestyle changes if something is off. Consider seeing your dentist and eye doctor as well. Pregnancy can affect both your gums and eyesight.
Being pregnant can be difficult emotionally. Hormones may cause you to feel depressed or not quite like yourself. Strengthening your relationship with your spouse will help you through those tough times. Make time for date nights and talks. Establishing good communication now will help you both if things get tough later.
Sometimes pregnancy becomes complicated. I developed preeclampsia with four of my pregnancies and was on bed rest for a few weeks before each delivery. A good support system was crucial to our family’s survival and happiness. Decide ahead of time who your support system of friends and family will be. These are the people who will be excited for you every step of the way, and are willing to help you if things don’t go as planned.
Bringing a baby into the world is exciting! Focusing on good health before your pregnancy will increase your chances of an easier pregnancy and quick recovery, leaving you more time to focus on your new beautiful baby.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.