If you’re hoping to have a child at some point in the future but think your nutrition, health, and lifestyle choices don’t really matter until you actually get pregnant, you may need to think again. Why? A new study in the Lancet says that health before conception is extremely important and that women (and men) aren’t paying enough attention to their lifestyle choices before becoming pregnant.
The paper looked into many different factors across income groups and countries and found that women are more likely to have a healthy pregnancy and child when they are healthy at the point that they become pregnant. One noteworthy finding was that poor nutrition and obesity among both men and women can have negative impacts on pregnancy, the ability to conceive, and the child’s health throughout their lifespan. When a woman is obese and has poor nutritional habits, the effects can span generations. But when she reduces her weight prior to conception, the risk of pregnancy-related health complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, as well as stillbirth and preterm birth also go down.
Meanwhile, the typical American diet of abundant red meat, refined sugars, refined grains, and high-fat dairy often leaves women lacking important nutrients like magnesium, calcium, iodine, and vitamin D, all of which are important to overall health and a healthy pregnancy. Studies show that women may be able to reduce their risk of acquiring gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders during pregnancy by eating a diet that’s high in fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, and fish, and low in red and processed meats.
While people often think that only a woman’s health has an impact on the future child, research shows that a man’s weight before conception can influence the child’s future health as well. For example, when a father is obese, a couple may have more difficulty conceiving due to problems with sperm quantity and quality, and the future child will be at an increased risk of chronic disease. Men can improve their fertility and the health of their future children by maintaining a healthy weight.
Tips for Improving Your Preconception Health
- Eat healthy, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese puts you at higher risk for serious health conditions and can be harmful to your future child’s health.
- See your physician regularly and do what you can to keep existing medical conditions under control.
- Women should take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid daily, along with any other supplements recommended by your physician.
- Be mindful of alcohol, smoking, and drug use. Some recommendations advise that both women and men avoid smoking and alcohol use starting at least three months before conception.
- Make efforts to maintain positive mental health.
- Avoid coming into contact with environmental contaminants and toxic substances. These can be harmful to female and male reproductive systems, make it harder to get pregnant, and harm your future child’s health.
- Schedule a preconception care checkup with your OB/GYN to assess the status of your health and factors that might impact your pregnancy or ability to become pregnant.
To learn more, check out the study, or these other two related studies. If you have any concerns about you or your partner’s health in the preconception period and want to speak with a knowledgeable doctor or schedule a checkup, call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.