Thinking about getting pregnant? Whether you’re planning for your first or adding to the family, having a healthy lifestyle is important. I became a pediatrician because I wanted to help people develop a healthy lifestyle early—one that would stick with them and provide a strong foundation for wellness. I used to think that making conscious choices from birth was the best way to do that, but as it turns out, there are simple things you can do before you even conceive that will have a big impact on both your pregnancy and your child’s lifelong health.
Here are four things to do before you get pregnant:
1) Eat well now
Your body uses the vitamins and nutrients in foods more efficiently and effectively than from any other source. What you eat plays a critical role in so many aspects of having a healthy pregnancy and baby, that focusing on this one step alone can be very powerful. The foods you eat before and during pregnancy determine the quality of your egg and sperm, tell cells how to use DNA and can play a critical role in determining what baby will eventually enjoy eating too. A good place to start is by incorporating two servings of dark leafy greens into your diet every day. Try throwing a handful of kale into a fruit smoothie, adding chopped greens into an omelet or soup or replacing the lettuce on your sandwich with spinach. If you are already a pro with greens, include a handful of nuts and seeds daily, especially pumpkin seeds and walnuts.
2) Start taking prenatal vitamins
Even those of us with the best of intentions cannot eat perfectly 100% of the time. Your prenatal vitamin acts as an insurance policy, filling in the gaps when needed. Starting early will ensure that you are covered from the moment you conceive and through the early weeks of pregnancy when critical stages of development are occuring. Look for a food based prenatal vitamin that is free of anything artificial. It should contain at least 400 mcg of folic acid, although you may need more if you are one of the 40% of people who carry a genetic mutation that inhibits your ability to process this vital nutrient.
3) Listen to your body
Your body is in constant communication with you. Symptoms like fatigue, headaches, irregular digestion and heartburn, are your body’s way of letting you know that something is out of balance. Stress, medications, food sensitivities, sleep disorders and being overweight are just a few of the possible causes. Uncovering the culprit can sometimes be a challenge, so working with an experienced practitioner can help. Undiagnosed food sensitivities are relatively common. Learning what you may be sensitive to and avoiding these foods now can help decrease the likelihood of similar food intolerances in your baby.
4) Detoxify your environment
Chronic diseases in children, including autism, allergies, cancer, obesity and learning differences, are on the rise. While the complex causes of these trends are not fully understood, a growing body of research suggests that environmental toxins play a role. Though you cannot control every aspect of your environment, making a few simple changes where you can will go a long way. Start with eating organic when possible, especially the foods listed on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen”. Avoid skin products that contain triclosan and parabens, opting for natural versions with ingredients you can recognize. Store and heat foods in glass rather than plastic to minimize your exposure to BPA, a potent hormone disruptor. And, if you are thinking about redecorating, look for no-VOC paints, natural fiber carpets and furniture free of flame retardants. The small effort it takes to clean up your environment will reap big rewards for your family.
Dr. Heather Jeney is an integrative pediatrician in Montclair offering preconception planning, integrative medicine for children and newborn home visits.