The Body Experts: Preparing Your Body To Conceive
Granted, when you don’t actually want to make a baby, plenty of time and effort during your “fertile years” will be spent actively trying *not* to get pregnant – with your period arriving as a “phew” moment every month. But what about when your thoughts turn to getting pregnant rather than avoiding a bun in the oven – maybe not right now, but sometime soon? What can you do to help your body in the quest for a baby?
We hear from three women’s health and fertility experts on the things you can do right now to start preparing your body for pregnancy.
Ditch the pill
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, the first step is to come off hormonal contraception, such as the pill or the implant, to resume a normal monthly cycle that enables baby making to happen. If you don’t want to conceive straight away however, it is advisable to use another form of non-hormonal contraception – like condoms – to avoid getting pregnant sooner than expected (oops).
Lara Briden ND, says coming of hormonal contraception lets you look closely at how your body is working with regards to your fertility. She says, “It’s the first time your body has had a chance to show you what you can do. Getting a period right away – or not – gives you important clues about your health. The healthier your periods, the more fertile you will become and when it comes to period health, it’s all about ovulation, because ovulation is how you make your beneficial hormones oestrogen and progesterone. If you want to know what to expect when going off hormonal birth control, here’s one simple question: What were your periods like before you took birth control? I’m not talking about your pill bleeds – because they are not periods. I’m talking about your real periods – the ones you had like maybe ten years ago. Were those real periods regular? Were they heavy or painful? Did your skin break out? Because those problems have not gone away. They have merely being masked by birth control, and they will mostly likely re-emerge.”
Get smart about your cycle
Knowledge is power when it comes to baby making, so it’s sensible to learn where your fertile window falls within your monthly cycle – this is the time when sex will result in pregnancy.
“Much research has been done on ovulation and what is called ‘the fertile window’. This is a period of about six days starting five days prior to ovulation and ending on the day of ovulation and is the time when pregnancy is most likely to happen. While an egg only stays capable of being fertilized for about 12 hours after ovulation, we know that healthy sperm can remain actively motile and capable of fertilizing an egg for at least 72 hours (three days) after intercourse. An average woman’s menstrual cycle is typically 28 days, counting from the first day of her period (day 1) to the first day of her next period. In such a cycle ovulation occurs approximately 14 days before the next anticipated period,” explains Professor Mary Wingfield, fertility specialist and author of The Fertility Handbook. We’re not all the same however, so cycle lengths can differ from woman to woman which will result in a slightly earlier, or later ovulation. You can track yours, and therefore your predicated day of ovulation, on an app or by counting and marking the days on a calendar.
Take a supp
Whether you already have a semi-healthy diet or are mostly mainlining burgers, it’s advisable to start looking at your nutritional intake before getting pregnant. Taking a folic acid supplement is also advised before you conceive to help to prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida.
“The UK government recommends that pregnant women and anyone trying to conceive should take a daily supplement of 400mcg acid folic. There are also supplements targeted specifically at women trying to get pregnant. If you are concerned you’re not getting the requisite vitamins, minerals and oils, there is good reason to take supplements for fertility. You need to ensure you are taking either in food, or as a supplement, the recommended amounts of vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, C, folate, zinc, calcium, magnesium, selenium and essential fatty acids,” says Emma Cannon, fertility expert and author of The Baby Making Bible.
Watch your weight
Whilst the odd pound or two makes little difference to your ability to conceive, being overweight, or very underweight and excessively exercising, can affect your fertility. “Studies have shown that if women lose 15% of their ideal body weight, their periods will become irregular, and if they lose 30%, their periods will stop altogether,” says Professor Wingfield. Infertility has also been shown to be three times higher in obese women, so maintaining a healthy BMI is crucial if you’re thinking about making a baby.
Clean up your lifestyle
We probably don’t need to tell you that boozing, smoking and drug taking are bad for your health at the best of times, but even more so if you’re prepping your body for a baby. Quitting these vices now can increase your chances of conceiving, when you’d like to.
“The effects of smoking on fertility are well documented, but for anyone who hasn’t been listening: smoking can have a catastrophic effect on fertility. It has been shown to have a negative impact both on conception – smokers take longer to conceive than nonsmokers – and on the ability to carry a pregnancy to term. Chemicals in cigarettes interfere with the production of oestrogen and the eggs of women who smoke have been shown to be more prone to genetic abnormality,” says Emma Cannon. The amount of alcohol you drink should also be reduced, especially if you regularly binge drink, or drink on an empty stomach. “Alcohol interferes with the hormones and affects the functioning of the menstrual cycle. The British Medical Journal showed that women who had as few as one to five glasses a week had decreased fecundability (the monthly probability of conception),” Emma explains.
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