The decision to have a baby is exciting, whether you’ll be a first-time mom or are hoping to grow your family. As you’re trying to conceive, perhaps more than ever, it’s time to make your health your No. 1 priority. Bringing new life into the world will require both physical and mental strength, so here are some tips for getting your body and mind ready as you approach the beautiful journey ahead.
Maximize Your Nutrition
Even before you conceive, begin eating and drinking like a pregnant woman, recommends Megan Kammer, CNM, MSN, a midwife with HealthNet in Indianapolis. Fill your diet with fresh whole foods and lots of water, and cut out processed foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
Folic acid and omega-3s are two nutrients especially important for expectant mothers. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus, and can be obtained by eating leafy greens, beans, nuts and seeds. Omega-3s, particularly DHA and EPA, contribute to healthy brain and retina development in the baby and can help prevent perinatal depression. Eating 6 ounces of fatty fish, such as sardines, salmon, light tuna and anchovies, twice a week can provide you with these nutrients. (Note: High mercury levels in fish can impact a baby’s brain development. Find guidance on fish safety here: fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish.)
Doctors also advise starting a prenatal up to six months before trying to conceive to give your body a boost of these and other important nutrients.
Move Your Body
If you don’t already regularly exercise, now’s the time to start. Even if balancing a tight schedule, try working up to the doctor-recommended 150 minutes per week, and focus on low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming or yoga. “Get your heart rate up and listen to your body,” Kammer says. “Even if you’re active at work, set aside time to exercise where you are listening to your body specifically.” Talk with your OBGYN about any necessary adjustments to your normal routine specific to your health and pregnancy.
Lack of sleep is one of the leading causes of postpartum depression and anxiety, so developing good sleep habits now is key. Salihah Talifarro, MSW, LCSW, PMH-C, a perinatal mental health therapist in Indianapolis, recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night. “If you are currently struggling with sleep, try improving your sleep hygiene by creating a relaxing routine before bed, turning off lights and electronic devices an hour before bedtime, minimizing caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and keeping your bedroom to a cool and comfortable temperature for sleep,” she says. If you work a physically grueling or time-consuming job, you may also start considering ways to ease up a bit to accommodate your pregnant body.
Review Your Medications
If you’re on any medications, check their safety for use during pregnancy. Work with your OBGYN, primary care physician, or mental health therapist to find replacement medications or taper doses if necessary. OBGYNs without a background in psychiatric medications can call Postpartum Support International’s Perinatal Psychiatric Consult Line to speak directly to a reproductive psychiatrist to determine an appropriate medication for an expectant mother, Talifarro says.
Process Past Trauma
For some women, past experiences, such as a pregnancy loss or birth trauma, can bring up anxiety when trying to conceive again. This is a normal nervous-system response, and Talifarro recommends seeking a therapist or support group to help you process that event. “A therapist brings support and therapeutic skills to the table, which is very beneficial for someone to be able to unpack their thoughts and feelings and move towards emotional healing,” she says.
Let Go of Expectations
You can’t expect to become pregnant during a certain time frame or feel a certain way when you do. “Every pregnancy from mom to mom is different, and even in one mom, from pregnancy to pregnancy can be very different,” Kammer says. Try not to let others tell you how your experience should be, and if necessary, turn off or limit social media and set boundaries with real-life people. Instead, use this time to focus on things you can control, like your health, and to talk with your partner about the values you want to live as a family.
Find Outlets for Stress
Finding a way to release stress can be helpful when coping with the changes that go along with conception and pregnancy. While each woman’s way of relieving stress will look different, some things to explore adding to your daily routine include movement techniques, deep breathing, journaling, meditation, creative expression, and even crying and hugs.
Build Your Team
Use the time while trying to conceive to build up your pregnancy support network. These people can include your partner, supportive family and friends, and birth professionals, like an OBGYN or midwife, mental health therapist, and doula. Also schedule a check-up with your physician and dentist, and consider adding specialists, like a chiropractor or acupuncturist, who may help get you with body alignment for pregnancy and birth.
Above all, as you embark on this journey, take care of yourself and allow yourself space to experience this transitional phase with openness and love.