Deciding you want to get pregnant—or thinking it might be a possibility soon—is a big milestone. Get ready for your life to change! And until then, enjoy being master of your own body and your own schedule, because that won’t last forever. In the meantime, you need to start taking very good care of yourself—well before you’re actually knocked up. There are many reasons to do this.
First, you want your baby to have the healthiest possible environment in which to grow from the moment of conception. This means getting your body ready now!
Second, chances are you don’t know exactly when you’ll get pregnant. Sure, it could take a while, but it could also happen right away. You never know, so be prepared. If your pregnancy comes as a surprise, please don’t worry. Plenty of healthy babies are born every day to parents who nine months earlier had no idea they were conceiving a child. Still, you want to give your child every advantage you can, right? So we’ll focus on helping you be the healthiest host you can be for the little person who will soon be spending the better part of a year inside of you.
Third, your chances of getting pregnant and having a complication-free pregnancy are greatest if you are healthy and fit. Of course, being healthy and fit doesn’t mean you’ll get pregnant instantly, but it does help. The first time I tried to get pregnant, it took about a year, and I remember being frustrated when my friends got pregnant more quickly, while I kept seeing one line in the window of the pregnancy test instead of two. If you’re in the same situation, it’s best to get past the frustration and to focus on your own journey. Don’t compare your path to anyone else’s. (I know that’s not the easiest advice to take, but I’m going to offer it anyway.) Since I couldn’t make my body get pregnant, I had to focus on the other things I could control, like my health, fitness, and nutrition. I reduced my alcohol intake, too, by mostly cutting out my glass of wine with dinner and skipping the cocktails when I was out with friends. Not to be a downer, but if you have any other unhealthy habits, like smoking or taking drugs of any kind, I highly suggest you deal with them now, before you are pregnant, so your body will be healthier and so you don’t have to deal with the stress of withdrawal on top of everything else.
Fourth, being healthy before you get pregnant makes it way easier to stay active and fit during pregnancy, which, in turn, means you’ll get your body back a whole lot faster after the baby is born. (I know that seems like a long way off right now, but trust me: You want things to be as easy as possible once your bundle of joy arrives!)
I could list about a hundred more reasons, but the point is that everything you do now really matters. And a recent study (published in 2009 in the British Medical Journal) found that most women don’t follow the lifestyle and health guidelines suggested for women who are trying to conceive. Oops. Let’s work on changing that. I want you to have the best and healthiest pregnancy possible, so here are tips to help you set yourself up for that.
I’m excited for you—seriously—because if you’re reading this before you get pregnant, you have an amazing opportunity right now to start, amp up, or focus on your fitness routine. As a busy mom, I admit that I sometimes miss those times before I had kids when I could work out (or do anything) pretty much whenever I wanted. If I felt like hitting a certain spin or yoga class, or I suddenly had the urge to spend a few hours at the gym or go for a jog, no problem. Knowing what I know now, I wish I’d spent a little more time working out back then, when there was no need to worry about who else needed me. I could just leave my husband a message (this was before texting—remember that?) and do it! Of course, I wouldn’t trade my current situation for anything, but I want you to enjoy this freedom, and use it to concentrate on yourself. The more active and fit you are before you’re pregnant, the more you can keep doing while you’re pregnant—which, again, is so good for you and your baby. Here are a few things to think about.
1. Keep up—or start—a regular cardio habit. Pregnancy and childbirth are often compared to running a marathon, and you wouldn’t try to run a marathon without training, would you? (If you did, it would hurt. A lot.)
One of the best ways to get ready for your endurance event is with regular cardiovascular exercise (think walking, hiking, spinning, running, elliptical, stair climber, cross-country skiing). Do it at least three times per week for thirty minutes. Preferably more like five times (or more) per week. Not only is it good for you, but it will make you feel fantastic.
If you’ve never worked out before, start slowly and build up your cardio regimen. If you’re working out once or twice a week now, hey, let’s step it up a bit. There’s no downside. And if you already have a great fitness routine, don’t stop!
2. Keep up—or add—regular strength training. This doesn’t mean you have to lift heavy weights and bulk up. Not even close. I’m talking about things like Pilates, yoga, Bar Method, Core Fusion, circuit training with light weights, and abs classes . . . anything that focuses on strengthening your muscles. Yoga, by the way, is one of the best things you can start doing now. It helps you get strong, and it also helps you learn how to breathe slowly and calmly through anything, which will come in handy down the road when you’re having an intense contraction.
3. Always remember how important exercise is, especially now. It may seem unnecessary. You’re about to gain thirty pounds, so why bother working out? But it is not a waste of time. I promise you’ll be grateful to be as fit as you can be going into one of the most physically strenuous times of your life.
4. This isn’t exactly an exercise tip, but it is most definitely related to your overall fitness and health: If you happen to be a smoker, please, please, please stop smoking now. Get that out of the way before you’re pregnant. Do it. This is not negotiable. Okay, I promised not to issue mandates, but I am going to break that promise just for one second right here. Do not smoke if you are pregnant. Please. Okay, that’s it. I’m done.
I wish I could tell you to go crazy and enjoy all the foods (and drinks!) you have to skip during pregnancy. Sorry, I can’t do that. When you’re trying to get pregnant, you need to start eating like you’re already pregnant—because you may not realize you’re pregnant until you’re many weeks along. Besides, this is not a time when you want to be eating and drinking to excess and setting yourself up for possible unhealthy weight gain. Which brings us to the following food for thought.
1. Because dieting to lose weight while pregnant is a no-no, and because it’s easier to get pregnant and have a complication-free pregnancy if you are at a healthy weight, now is the time to focus on reaching your healthy weight, if you’re not there already. If you are underweight, this means gaining a few pounds, and if you are overweight, it’s a good opportunity to lose a few pounds. See your doctor, tell her you’re thinking about getting pregnant, and have an honest conversation about your weight and whether you need to change your eating habits. Remember, it’s what you eat that has the biggest impact on weight gain or weight loss. If you’re already at a healthy weight, that’s great! This is the perfect time to make sure you’re eating the healthy, nutritious foods that are best for you.
2. Get 400 micrograms of folate or folic acid per day. You may have heard that folic acid is a key nutrient to take in while you’re pregnant, because it helps to prevent neural tube defects (serious birth defects). Well, you really should be getting that daily dose of folic acid well before you’re pregnant, because the baby’s neural tube forms very early in pregnancy. You can get it from foods—leafy green veggies (such as spinach), citrus fruits, beans, strawberries, and enriched cereals—but because it’s tough to get the recommended daily amount just from food, most doctors suggest taking a folic acid supplement or a multivitamin with folic acid. Talk to your doc to see what she suggests for you.
MD EATS: Simple Folate-Filled Salad
Serves 1 or 2
This salad is easy to make, and a good way to get lots of nutrients—including a dose of extra folate—into your system.
2 cups raw spinach leaves (100 micrograms folate)
2 tablespoons orange juice (10 micrograms folate)
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup whole strawberries, hulled and chopped (36 micrograms folate)
Toss the spinach leaves with the juice, oil, salt, and pepper so the leaves are all lightly coated. Add the strawberries, toss gently, and serve.
MD EXTRA: Banish the Bread Basket
From here on out, let’s make a deal never to eat the bread they give you at restaurants. It’s almost always completely worthless calories. My husband calls it filler. Save your appetite for the yummy thing you’re about to order. Don’t waste your appetite on those empty carbs.
3. Make your carbs whole grains. This is one of the simplest changes to make if you want a healthier diet, and it’s a great habit to adopt now and keep forever. Instead of white bread, regular pasta, and white rice, have whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. You’ll get more fiber and nutrients and fewer empty calories.
4. I’ll say this again: Eat lots of veggies and fruits. Get in the habit of eating at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day. If you’re not doing this now (really pay attention to quantity—you might think you’re doing it, but you may not be), make yourself do it for a few weeks until it becomes automatic. Start with breakfast—it’s easy to have berries or a banana with yogurt or cereal. At lunch, think about salads and veggie-filled soups. For dinner, always make vegetables and salads part of the plan. Snack on fruits and veggies, too! Whenever you’re making a salad, don’t use iceberg or romaine, because they offer no nutritional value. Use butter (or Boston) lettuce, arugula, or mixed greens that give you some health bang for your buck. Mix in some raw spinach leaves, too.
MD EATS: Sanov Family Oatmeal Pancakes
This recipe has been a favorite in my husband’s family since the 1970s. When my in-laws first made it for me, I was blown away. They’re so light and delicious, and they are a good source of whole grains. Don’t be alarmed if the batter seems runny and lumpy. That’s because of the oatmeal, and that’s exactly what it should be like. If you make sure the griddle or pan is hot enough, each quarter cup of batter will make two silver-dollar-sized pancakes. I like to eat two of these with a drizzle of maple syrup, fruit salad, and yogurt for a satisfying breakfast. (I don’t suggest a huge stack of them—think of them as a breakfast side dish, not the main course.) Take the time for a leisurely (and healthy) morning treat now!
2 cups cooled cooked oatmeal (cook according to the directions on the oatmeal box)
1½ cups milk
3/8 cup safflower or vegetable oil
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons powdered milk
¼ teaspoon salt
In a medium bowl, mix the cooled cooked oatmeal with the milk. Whisk in the oil. In a separate small bowl, beat the eggs. Make sure the oatmeal is cool (or it will cook the eggs) and stir the beaten eggs into the oatmeal mixture. Stir in the whole wheat flour, the powdered milk, and the salt.
Heat a griddle or skillet on medium-high heat, and spray lightly with cooking spray or oil. When the griddle or pan is hot, use about ¼ cup of batter to make two pancakes, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Stir the batter occasionally as it sits while you’re making the first batches of pancakes.
MD EATS: When to Opt for Organic
Organic foods are getting easier to find, so I encourage you to choose organic (which means free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers) over conventional whenever you can in order to keep unhealthy chemicals out of your body. Here are the fruits and veggies Meg Moreta says tend to be most contaminated—so if you’re deciding which organic foods to prioritize, these are the most important.
Tomatoes (technically a fruit, not a veggie!)
Sweet bell peppers
5. Say adios to your wine. Ouch. This could be a tough one for those of us who enjoy a few glasses of wine, or cocktails, or whatever. But seriously, you may be many weeks into your pregnancy before you realize you’re pregnant, and getting tipsy just isn’t a good idea near the start of pregnancy (or anytime during pregnancy, for that matter). I would occasionally have one glass of wine with dinner while I was trying to get pregnant, but for anything more than that, the risk just didn’t seem worth it to me. This is another topic to discuss with your doctor, please. The good news: If you don’t drink, you never have to worry about a hangover. . . .
6. Consider starting a calcium supplement and a prenatal vitamin. For calcium, my doctor recommended those chocolate Viactiv Calcium Soft Chews. They taste pretty good! As for prenatal vitamins, the general recommendation is to start taking them at least three months before conception, so your body has all the nutrients you need for those crucial first few weeks and months of baby development. Some doctors believe morning sickness can be partially attributed to your body getting used to prenatal vitamins, so go ahead and start them before you’re actually pregnant and give your body a chance to get used to them before all the other craziness begins. Talk to your doctor about what makes sense for you.
You’ve been dressing yourself for a long time and your body hasn’t started changing due to pregnancy yet, so do you really need Mommy Diet fashion advice now? Well, maybe. Fashion is pretty important. Like it or not, what you wear speaks volumes about who you are. When you get pregnant, and then after you have a baby, it’s not always easy to pull together a great look, especially if you’re not already confident about what works for you. Take this opportunity—when you’re not yet carrying around extra pounds and you don’t have a crying baby demanding your attention—to get your style together.
1. Know how to dress to impress. Yes, I’m a big fan of comfort clothes. (I wear four-inch heels at work with my tall costars, but I wear my Chuck Taylors or flip-flops almost every day at home.) But when you’re going out on the town, practice putting a little effort into how you come across. When you’re dealing with a weeks-old baby, you might not have it in you to pull together a whole ensemble . . . so while you don’t have any excuses, come on, step it up a notch!
2. Clean out your closet. Make room for maternity clothes, and get rid of all the stuff you’ll never wear again. You know there are pieces hanging around in there that should never see the light of day. Why are you clinging to them? I’ll suggest doing a more thorough closet “edit” later, but for now, just try to clean out the crap. Give it away or donate it. Rip it off like a Band-Aid! Invite a friend over to help you with the tough decisions, and maybe have one of those very few glasses of wine you’re allowed right now to make the good-byes a little easier.
3. Don’t go on any shopping sprees right now. Your body is going to change soon, so why spend a lot of money on pieces you won’t be able to wear for the next year? You might not like them anymore when they do fit again. Go through your closet (post clean-out), try things on, and figure out what style resonates best with you. Do you gravitate to cashmere sweaters and pearls? Or funky T-shirts? Or girly dresses? Or tailored pieces? This is the time to recognize and own your style. Then when you’re shopping for maternity clothes, keep that fashion sense in mind.
You’ll soon understand that having plenty of time to take care of yourself is a luxury, so take advantage of it while you can.
1. Do whatever relaxes you. And do it often. Maybe it’s going to yoga, maybe it’s watching a silly movie, maybe it’s going to bed early with a great book. Studies show the less stressed you are, the easier time you’ll have getting pregnant. This is a good habit to get into, because avoiding stress during pregnancy is good for you and your baby. Think about it for a minute or two: What really puts you into your most mellow, chilled-out, happy mood?
2. Clear your home of toxic chemicals. Yikes, what toxic chemicals? Unfortunately, most of us are living with a lot of them. Believe it or not, the indoor air in homes is generally two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. So just be aware of what you’re bringing into your home. Choose natural and organic cleaning products. If you’re painting a room, use only low-VOC paints (VOC stands for volatile organic compound; VOCs can cause everything from headaches and nausea to liver and kidney damage). Stay away from chemical air fresheners, and if you get your clothes dry-cleaned, go to a “green” dry cleaner that doesn’t use the chemical perchloroethylene (just ask them if they use “perc”—if they say they don’t know or tell you it’s harmless, go to a different cleaner).
3. If you wear acrylic nails, now is the time to get rid of them. It’s really not good to breathe in those fumes while you’re pregnant, so you might as well get started on giving your nails a chance to grow back on their own. If you like polish on your nails, pick out shades you like from brands that are free of formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthlate (aka DBP).
4. Go to bed earlier. A healthy lifestyle includes plenty of sleep, and I know I didn’t always get enough sleep before I had children. (I still don’t always get enough sleep, but for different reasons.) Sleeping well means getting sick less often and having way more energy; both are very important as you begin this new adventure. Plus, staying out really late doesn’t work well when you’re pregnant or a new mom, so the early-to-bed habit is a good one to start now.
5. If you’re having a hard time getting pregnant, or if you need help getting pregnant, take it easy on yourself. It can be an emotional and hormonal roller coaster well above and beyond the hormonal ups and downs of pregnancy. If you have a miscarriage while trying to get pregnant, give yourself time to grieve and heal—but also realize that it’s very common (it happens in 15 to 20 percent of recognized pregnancies, and more like 50 percent of all pregnancies), and that you can and likely will go on to have a wonderful and healthy pregnancy.
This can be such a tough road, and I applaud your strength as you continue on it. As you do, unless your doctor specifically tells you that you need to back off your workout routine (and I highly recommend including her in your decisions at this point), you can use workouts to help you burn your stress, tension, and sadness.
Eating healthfully can also help you feel better about yourself. I’m not going to lie: Chocolate does have some emotionally healing properties and health benefits. But only when you consume it within reasonable limits. A little makes you feel better, but if you go beyond just a bit, the more you eat, the worse you’ll feel. (Remember that just 1 ounce of chocolate has about 150 calories.) So enjoy a bite or two if it’s your favorite and you’re having a crappy day. I love the dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s. (Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that are good for you.) I have a bar of it in my dressing room at Days, and I break off a little piece when I need a taste of something sweet. One bar lasts a long time. But if there’s something you can’t resist (for me it’s Red Velvet anything!) and you are likely to polish off a huge chocolate bar or pint of ice cream in one sitting when you’re feeling down, keep it out of the house.
In theory, this should be a very romantic time for you and your partner. You’re planning for the future and thinking about the amazing family you will create together. Plus, you’re having lots of sex! Woohoo! Everything is perfect!
Please don’t be disappointed if this isn’t the scenario you’re experiencing. Unfortunately, it’s not totally realistic. Along with all the planning comes a fair amount of stress, whether you’re worried about money or time or difficulty conceiving. And all that sex? Well, it’s nice, but it can also start to feel like a chore if you let it. (Somehow, “Honey, we need to do it now because I’m ovulating” isn’t as much of a turn-on as more spontaneous forms of foreplay.)
Before this all becomes a major bummer, try to remember everything that is romantic about trying to have a baby. Focus on the positive, and use this time to ignite passion in the bedroom. A healthy sex life is an important part of any relationship, so have fun; here are a few tips to help you and your partner enjoy the process.
1. Remember that you’re in this together. Yes, you’ll be doing most of the work for the next nine months. Still, you’re deciding to start a family together and that’s an incredible thing. Talk about it, share anything that’s stressing you out, and be there to support each other. If you’re frustrated with anything (like it’s taking longer than you want to conceive), try not to take it out on your partner. Remain allies and best friends!
2. Don’t let sex become too clinical. Even if you’re sticking to a schedule, keep the romance alive! Light some candles, have a date first, play sexy games, and most important, focus on being with your partner—not just the intended outcome.
3. Spend time focusing on yourselves and your marriage before you try to have kids. This was really important to my husband, and I’m so glad he encouraged us to think about it. We worked on our careers and took time to travel and felt like we were really ready to focus on a new family member before we tried to conceive.
You have to approach family life in whatever way works for you, but Dave and I are both so glad we did things the way we did—not rushing to have kids, and getting to do things that we wanted to do. It may be another ten years before we are able to go back to Europe, and next time we’ll probably go with our kids, but until then I have wonderful memories of seeing amazing Parisian architecture and enjoying those fabulous dinners in Italy (during which I probably violated every rule in this book, but that’s what Italy is for, right?). Whatever it is that you want to do that isn’t quite as easy or practical when you have a baby . . . do it now! Have some adventures together, take lots of photos, and know that you’ll always be glad you did.
© 2011 Alison J. Sweeney