Memorial Health - January 22, 2019
Young couple embraces on their wedding day

When you're trying to conceive, much of the focus is understandably on tracking when you're ovulating and when to have sex. While these things are important for a successful pregnancy, there are other factors that can optimize fertility while also preparing you and your partner for growing a family.

Before conceiving, commit to improving your health in these areas:

1. Quit Smoking

Both partners - but especially mom - should quit smoking. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to all sorts of problems for your child, like low birthweight, preterm delivery, lung conditions, asthma, learning disabilities, physical development issues and even death. And still, 12 to 20 percent of pregnant women smoke, according to the American Pregnancy Association, and more than 1,000 babies die every year in the US because their mothers smoked during pregnancy.

Smoking can also cause problems for fertility. Women who smoke are more likely to be infertile, and some studies show that men who smoke have poorer sperm quality than men who don't.

2. Cut Back On Alcohol

Drinking during pregnancy can cause many issues, like miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal alcohol syndrome and physical, intellectual, behavioral or learning disabilities. It's smart to cut back even when you're trying to conceive.

The first few weeks of pregnancy (yes, even those four to six weeks you may not know you're pregnant) are crucial for a baby's development. With so much of the development happening, it's no surprise that alcohol can interfere.

3. Reduce Your Caffeine Intake

Some caffeine during pregnancy is OK, but if you're a three-cups-of-coffee kind of person, you'll want to cut back. Experts recommend consuming less than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day when you're pregnant or trying to conceive, which is about one 12-ounce cup of coffee.

A small study published in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's Fertility and Sterility journal studied 344 couples and concluded that women who had more than two caffeinated drinks per day while pregnant had a 74-percent higher risk of miscarriage than those who drank less caffeine. And, when their significant others had more than two caffeinated drinks per day, there was also an increased risk of miscarriage.

4. Maintain a Healthy Weight and Evaluate Your Exercise Plan

Keeping your weight and exercise regimen in check is great for your overall health, but it's especially important if you want to start a family.

While it's important to find a workout routine that works for you, don't work out too hard. That's because there may be a relationship between strenuous exercise and ovulation issues. On the flip side, too little exercise may be associated with obesity, which may cause anovulation (a menstrual cycle without ovulation) and, according to one study, may double the time it takes to conceive.

The bottom line? Exercise and weight recommendations vary from personto person. Talk with your doctor [SM1] about what's best for you and your partner.

5. Start Taking a Prenatal Supplement

Taking prenatal vitamins is a must during pregnancy, but you'll want to consider getting a head start. Taking at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily, a main ingredient in all prenatal vitamins, can help lower the risk of neural tube defects in babies when women take them before conception. It's best to start taking them at least one month before trying to conceive.

6. Make Sure Chronic Conditions Are in Check

Staying healthy is important no matter what stage of life you're in, but before you start a family, you'll want to make sure you're properly managing chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, depression, asthma, lupus and eating disorders. Talk to your doctor before trying to conceive, so you can learn the safest treatment options for starting a family.

7. Prepare for Your Body to Change

It's no surprise that pregnancy changes your body, and while you'll never be able to know exactly how your body will handle carrying a baby, you'll want to be mentally prepared for the changes.

Some of the changes you might experience include: acid reflux or heartburn, constipation, sleep problems, vaginal or pelvic pressure, swollen ankles, nausea and vomiting, pain with walking, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, scarring and moodiness.

Don't worry, though. Most women forget about the discomfort as soon as they see their beautiful baby.

8. Make Sure You're Up to Date on Health Screenings and Checkups

You and your significant other should be up to date on health screenings and checkups. You should also schedule a preconception exam with your OB/GYN, who can evaluate test results and answer any questions you might have about conception.

Also, it's important that your doctors check to see if you've had tuberculosis or if you're a carrier for some genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease. These conditions can contribute to pregnancy complications and may even prevent you from getting pregnant.

9. Spend Time Together as a Couple

Having a child is one of the best parts of many peoples' lives, but newborns, and kids in general, will take up a lot of your time.

Use the time you have while you're trying to conceive to connect with your partner. Take a trip, be spontaneous and enjoy your life together while it's just the two of you. Remember that the road to conception may be long and sometimes rocky, but starting a family can be exciting and extremely rewarding. While easier said than done, try to be patient and savor the time with your significant other.

Dr. Stephanie Tootle is an OB/GYN who sees patients at Memorial Health University Physicians and Women's Care Islands on Whitemarsh Island. Schedule an appointment with her online.