Prepping your body for baby
There's a lot to think about when starting a family, especially when it comes to maternal health. Personal trainer and new mom Kim Haman knows the importance of good health on a professional and personal level.
In August, she gave birth to her son, Wyatt. Haman, who was already health conscious, focused even more on her health and nutrition in the months before and during pregnancy. Haman said it can take several months to form new behaviors and getting a head start on developing healthy habits helps set women up for success while pregnant. The months ahead of trying to conceive are a great time to make general health, fitness, nutrition, and stress management top priorities.
General health guidelines
Dr. Elizabeth Weldon, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, said women planning to become pregnant should keep up with regular preventive measures like getting a flu shot in the fall. Women who are pregnant are at an increased risk of getting the flu and having severe complications from the virus like respiratory failure and miscarriage so it is important to protect yourself ahead of flu season.
Prior to pregnancy, women can undergo genetic carrier screenings to see if they are genetic carriers for certain diseases such as cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, among other issues, depending on your personal background.
"It is a blood test to see if you are a silent carrier of disease. If you are, we will test your partner. If you are not, then we know that your children will likely not have these diseases," Weldon said. "Also, once you've been tested, you will remain negative for your lifetime so you don't have to test again."
Weldon also recommends checking for immunity against chickenpox and German measles and getting vaccinated against them if needed. If you do get vaccinated, Weldon said women need to wait one month after vaccination before trying to get pregnant.
To prepare her body for pregnancy, Haman adjusted her diet to follow her doctor's recommendations and began taking a prenatal vitamin. Her biggest challenge was decreasing her caffeine intake to just one cup of coffee per day. She also planned her meals out in advance to make sure she was getting necessary nutrients and eating a well-balanced diet. One key nutrient women need to make sure they consume is folacin (folic acid).
"If you hope to become pregnant, aim for 400 micrograms folic acid until you replace it with a prescription prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement," said Rosemary Weaver, clinical dietitian at Northwest Community Healthcare Wellness Center. "Also, choose grains fortified with folic acid, such as breakfast cereals, breads, rice, and pasta every day."
Weldon recommends women make exercise a habit before they become pregnant and aim to get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week.
"Exercise decreases depression and anxiety as well as some obstetric complications like gestational diabetes. It is an important part of a healthy pregnancy," said Weldon.
Joshua Steckler, owner of Push Fitness in Schaumburg, recommends women add total body movements such as dead lifts, squat to overhead presses and woodchops to their pre-pregnancy workout routines and include plank variations and lateral hip movements to strengthen the core and hips.
Once pregnant, it's OK to continue exercising, but women should make adjustments to bring the intensity down if needed. Prior to trying to have a baby, Haman enjoyed running long distances and weight lifting, but she had to adjust her goals from improving half marathon times to general exercise and staying healthy and fit. She decreased her distance running and did lighter cardio at the gym on the elliptical or StairMaster.
"After working out, I felt like I had more energy, had less morning sickness and my mood was improved," said Haman. "If it means you just walk 20 minutes and stretch or lift for 20 minutes, that is great. Going to the gym and exercising makes a huge difference during pregnancy, delivery and recovery."
Always consult with your physician to see if they have any specific recommendations or constraints based on your personal health. Weldon said pregnant women should avoid exercise that significantly increases body temperature or carries a risk of falling or getting hit.
The months before trying to conceive are ideal for finding stress-reducing activities you enjoy. Mindfulness, yoga, meditation and spending time with friends are all ways to de-stress, but don't ignore the power of a good night's sleep. Restful and restorative sleep starts with practicing good sleep hygiene.
"Try and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid screens within a few hours of your sleep time. Your bed should be primarily for sleeping, so avoid working, eating and watching TV while lying in bed," Weldon said.
If you're experiencing an uptick in stress in your life, Dr. Weldon recommends starting a daily meditation or journaling practice to help counteract the tension. Always consult a doctor if you're not eating or sleeping normally, feeling depressed most days or not finding joy in your normal activities.