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From Here to Maternity: Your Preconception To-Do List

By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

The sooner you start preparing for your next pregnancy, the better, and that goes for Dad, too. You’re in this baby-making thing together, after all! Here’s what you can do as a couple:

Practice “girth control” before you throw out the birth control. It’s particularly important for both of you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight when there’s a baby in your future. Research suggests overweight men may make less sperm overall and more abnormal sperm, possibly delaying conception. For Mom, starting pregnancy at a healthy weight and gaining the recommended pounds reduces pregnancy complications and helps protect baby from becoming overweight when he’s older.

Pop a daily multivitamin. While dietary supplements are not substitutes for a balanced diet, they are useful for filling in small nutrient gaps that may affect fertility and pregnancy. For example, women in their childbearing years need 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to help prevent certain birth defects in early pregnancy and many require supplemental iron to head off anemia. Men need the vitamin C, zinc, and folic acid in food and dietary supplements to produce top-notch sperm.

Mind your medications: Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the safety of every medication you and your partner take, including over-the-counter kinds. Certain drugs, including those for treating high blood pressure, ulcers, hair loss, and depression, can impair a man’s ability to father a child. Women should avoid medications with high levels of vitamin A, such as Accutane used to treat acne, as vitamin A can cause birth defects.

Limit alcohol intake. According to the March of Dimes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking when trying for a baby is a bad idea. Women may not know they are pregnant and continue to drink, which can lead to irreversible harm to their unborn child. Men who drink heavily may make sperm with defects that hinder their ability to fertilize an egg.

Snuff the butts. Mom, don’t wait until you’re pregnant to quit. Smoking can delay conception and it’s bad for your health. In potential Dads, smoking stresses sperm by creating free radicals that cause cell damage, by lowering sperm count, and by diminishing sperm quality.

Stress less. Trying to get pregnant can be difficult, especially as time goes on. Training yourself to feel calmer reduces tension and may improve fertility. Deep breathing, meditation, and regular physical activity are helpful for reducing stress. A balanced diet that limits caffeine and alcohol helps you sleep better, which helps you to feel calmer during the day.

About the Author

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, a writer, and mother of three. She has worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Heart Association, and for seven years counseled children and adults about healthy eating and disease prevention at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.

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