It is becoming more common for women to start having children in their mid to late thirties. The rate of first births for women aged 35 to 39 has greatly increased since 2010 in Canada [Reference]. One of the reasons for delayed motherhood is related to career. An article posted November 3, 2015 in the Daily Mail in the UK reported that “almost three-quarters of those surveyed said the pressure of juggling a career and family life was putting them off trying to conceive” [Reference]. Although it is possible for women to have safe and healthy pregnancies in their mid to late 30s (and even early 40s), the reality is that there are increased health and fertility risks the longer pregnancy is delayed.
However, rather than focus on the risks of delayed pregnancy, I want to provide hope and give women a plan to help reduce their risks, and help them prepare for a healthy and happy pregnancy experience. Preparing for pregnancy myself, I’ve been doing some research so below are my top five tips that you can start implementing now to help prepare for pregnancy.
I recommend that women start preparing for pregnancy a year to six months before they plan to conceive. This is to help ensure there is enough time to put all five tips into play well before the baby is conceived. Please note the information below is meant only to inform the readers, and is not meant for diagnosis. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed below, please speak to your healthcare practitioner.
Tip 1: Correct any outstanding dental issues now. If you have fillings in your teeth that need to be fixed or replaced this should be done well in advance of conceiving your child. Dental work (aside from a cleaning) cannot be done during the first trimester of pregnancy, and to be safe I recommend not having any dental work done throughout the pregnancy. If you have amalgam fillings you should consider having them replaced – a consult with your dentist will determine the safest method to remove the filing. The Canadian Dental Association states that “It has been known for some time that amalgam fillings release minute amounts of mercury vapour, especially with chewing, and that this mercury can be absorbed, reach body organs, and cross the placenta” [Reference]. Once the amalgam fillings have been replaced, talk to a natural healthcare provider about the best method to help clear heavy metals from your body.
Tip 2: Strengthen Core Muscles. My best bit of advice for any woman wanting to have a baby is to begin as you mean to end. Your fitness level before conceiving the baby is a good indication of how quickly you will be able to get back into shape after the baby is born. Not to mention, strong core muscles are essential for ensuring an easier labour and smooth delivery of the baby [Reference]. Women who work at having strong core muscles before getting pregnant are usually able to bounce back into shape quickly after giving birth. It is important to make sure you are exercising your core muscles correctly to make sure you are strengthening your muscles properly. A personal or fitness trainer can help you come up with an exercise routine that is tailored to your body type and specific needs. The trainer will be able to provide you with a fitness plan that supports you before, during and after the pregnancy.
Tip 3: Address any nutritional deficiencies. Do you get cravings – maybe cravings for something specific such as sugary treats or chocolate? Your cravings have a meaning and it is important to understand what that meaning is because cravings usually relate to some type of nutrient deficiency. For example, sometimes carbohydrate cravings can actually be a sign that your body is looking for more protein, an important nutrient that has many uses in the body. For women who do not eat meat common nutrient deficiencies can be iron and B12, and being low in these nutrients can lead to anemia. Raising nutrient levels, such as iron and B12, in the body can take some time, so it is paramount to ensure that your nutrient levels are in balance before having a baby. When you become pregnant your nutrient requirements will rapidly increase so a strong foundation is the best way to have a healthy pregnancy.
Tip 4: Correct any digestive disorders. Our digestive tract consists of one long tube that starts in our mouth, running through the body (esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon) and stops at the end of our colon. A digestive disorder can occur anywhere along this tract, whether it is indigestion, dysbiosis (imbalanced microbes in the gut), or sluggish bowels and constipation. Many women experience some type of digestive complaint during pregnancy. The best way to reduce the possibility of digestive issues during pregnancy is to assure that your digestion system is running smoothly and efficiently before getting pregnant. To improve digestion try some of these tips: chew your food slowly and thoroughly; don’t drink with meals; stop eating as soon as you feel full; and don’t eat when stressed. Proper digestion is essential for proper absorption of your nutrients, so you may wish to start taking a probiotic to help build up your healthy gut bacteria. Lastly, aim to eat at least 40 grams of fiber and drink 2 litres of filtered water per day to help reduce the risk of constipation (and hemorrhoids). Sources of fiber are vegetables, whole grains, chia seeds, hemp seeds and ground flax.
Tip 5: Stress Management. If you have been under chronic stress for a long period of time, then there is a good possibility that you are suffering from adrenal fatigue. During stressful times the adrenal glands make the hormone cortisol to help handle stress. When cortisol levels are high, it will compete for the same receptor sites on the cells of the body as progesterone (one of the sex hormones). This can result in lower progesterone levels relative to estrogen. When estrogen is higher than progesterone (referred as estrogen dominance), women may experience symptoms such as, inter alia, PMS, fibrocystic breasts, and infertility. Conversely, when cortisol levels are low when the body becomes tired and burnout from chronic stress, all levels of sex hormones are low.
So how do you know if you are entering a burnout phase from stress? At the beginning of stress we may notice an improvement in our physical performance. However, over time our body tries to maintain this level of stress and eventually becomes exhausted or burnt out as resources start to dwindle. If you are able to maintain energy through most of the day, but experience an energy crash in the afternoon, you are likely in the beginning phase of adrenal exhaustion or burnout. If you are having trouble maintaining energy from the beginning of the day, especially feeling like you cannot get out of bed, it is likely that your adrenals are burnt out. Cortisol is responsible for getting us out of bed in the morning; and if you feel that you don’t have the energy to get out of bed, there is a good possibility that your cortisol levels are low from burnout.
To help your body rebound from stress and potential adrenal fatigue start practicing a stress management technique such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, walking in nature, or any other type of gentle activity that will help you relax. There is a great app called Calm that provides you with a variety of guided meditations that you can do before bed, or even at the office.
These tips are just scratching the surface when it comes to preparing for pregnancy. If you are planning to become pregnant I suggest meeting with a healthcare practitioner who will take the time to do a thorough health assessment and help you create your own personal plan for a healthy and happy pregnancy.