Things to remember before you plan for a baby

Updated: Oct 01, 2010, 11:59 AM IST

Dr Preety Aggrawal

The journey from a couple to responsible parents is perhaps the most beautiful episode in one’s life. It is that precious time for which a person, whether man or woman, aspires for a long time. The road to conception can be very smooth for some couples, while others find that it can take years before they are able to become parents. There are many factors that can affect successful conception, but understanding some basic things can make the journey easier. Planning to have a healthy pregnancy is one of the best gifts one can present to herself and her baby. By actively pursuing good health, proper nutrition and active stress-free lifestyle one can increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Becoming pregnant is not an easy step to take. A vast majority of women will not get pregnant in their first cycle or the first time they try. With some help, though, one can make it happen as quickly as possible. To get pregnant, it is important to know the monthly cycle and one of the best ways to increase the chances of getting pregnant is to understand how the monthly cycle works. Every woman is different and in some cases every cycle is different, so it is good to take a few months to chart the cycle from beginning to end. It will help to track the ovulation period and once it is observed one can greatly increase the likelihood of fertilization. It is also advisable to have a visit with a consultant at least six months prior to wanting to get pregnant, which is known as a preconception health visit. The point of the visit is to get a clear picture of health and to prepare the body accordingly for conception. During the visit one can determine if the mother to be has any medical problems which need to be taken care of. This is also a nice time to ask about contraception, because many women who are taking birth control pills or using any other techniques are unsure about when they need to stop taking the pill in order to conceive.

Apart from these routine check-ups it is also necessary to start changing food habits to include a healthy variety of foods and start exercise which will keep the body in shape during and after pregnancy. It can also lower the risk of miscarriage and help to reduce labor complications and lengths. Whenever the thought of conceiving comes to mind, there should be a big no to smoking and drinking alcohol, because both are very much injurious to health and can cause infertility. Those who are addicted to something can opt for new vegetables, new fruits or chocolates. One must start her pregnancy planning by taking 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. Along with folic acid Vitamin B and Antioxidants are also very important. Research shows that consuming too much of caffeine may reduce the ability to conceive. Besides taking healthy diet, it is necessary to maintain proper weight. Being overweight as well as under weight can be a hindrance in the way of conception. In both the cases, it will not allow the women to ovulate on a regular basis which is absolutely necessary for a healthy pregnancy. Studies show that women whose body mass index (BMI) is below 20 or above 30, face difficulties in conceiving. So it is a good idea to try to get weight in the 20 to 30 range before trying to conceive.

When a woman is planning her pregnancy, she should not forget about her oral health. Women with unchecked gum disease are more prone to miscarriage, preterm birth and pre-eclampsia. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make one more susceptible to gum disease. Increased progesterone and estrogen levels can cause the gums to react differently, resulting in swollen, bleeding, tender gums. The good news is that women who take care of their health before they get pregnant cut down on their chances of experiencing gum complications in pregnancy. In fact, brushing, flossing and seeing the dentist regularly can reduce the risk of miscarriage by up to 70 percent. So before getting pregnant one should go to a dentist for dental check-up and cleaning.

Usually it is not seen that men are reading pre-pregnancy books, stocking up on the right vitamins and minerals, or avoiding those hidden dangers that could harm their baby-to-be. But this kind of stereotype mindset needs to be changed because men are equally involved like women in the process of conception. When a couple is trying to get pregnant, the focus is more on the woman, but many of us ignore the fact that men make up half of the equation. Men also need to take some precautions, some care before they get into the process of conception. A male’s role in a successful conception is important as healthy sperm needs to reach successfully, penetrate and fertilize the female’s eggs. For enhancing fertility, men should stop smoking immediately. Study shows that due to smoking sperm counts become low which can cause infertility in men. Sperm production and quality is connected to a good healthy diet. Vitamins such as B, C, E and Zinc increase the health and mobility of sperm. Vitamins that contain anti-oxidants or amino acids such as L-arginine are good for men with low sperm counts or poor sperm function.

Moreover, high temperature can also cause lower sperm production, making conception more difficult. Even sitting at a desk or driving affect the sperm count. Some say that testes can get overheated in briefs, so one can keep the scrotal temperature down by wearing loose underwear like boxers and avoiding hot tubs, saunas or hot baths. Besides the proper underwear, men should also limit caffeine intake, because drinking an entire mug of coffee can be detrimental to men’s fertility. Before trying for a baby, medications have to be handled very carefully as some medications are known to cause fertility problems. So medications to avoid during this period include anabolic steroids, some antibiotics (nitrofuranton & macrolides), sulfasalazine and ketoconazole.

Maintaining sexual life is important to conceive properly. Have sex every other day throughout the fertile period. While having sex at the right time is one of the most important things one can do, some couples completely overlook this. It is to be kept in mind that a woman’s egg is viable for just under 24 hrs while most sperm live 2-3 days. This means one’s fertile period begins approximately five days before ovulation and ends one day after. To aid in healthy conception, get plenty of anti-oxidants in the couple’s diet. This include green tea, fruits like blueberries, cherries, black plums, apples, and some green leafy vegetables like spinach, parsley, tomatoes and peppers. Besides taking the right food, it is the time to be stress free for both husband and wife. It is very essential for the reproductive health. So one should try to relax and enjoy the time with each other as much as possible.

Following all of these lifestyle changes can help many couples to improve their chances of having a baby. It is nothing but only a few changes which one needs to bring in one’s life when they are planning for a baby. Now the time has changed and such conventional ideas that infertility problems are only associated with women have also been proven wrong. Though this phase of life is mostly associated with women, but men are equally responsible for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. This is a big chance of life, so be very positive, have fun and do all the crazy things before getting pregnant.

(Dr Preety Aggrawal is Sr Gynecologist at The Cradle)