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5 Things To Do Before You Conceive

If you’re planning to conceive you may be considering your fertility for the first time.

Granted, you may be inclined to sit back, wonder and wait. But this is a golden opportunity for you! One of the very best things you can do for yourself and your future pregnancy and postpartum is to get proactive with your preconception health.

Preconception Health

Preconception health isn’t discussed as much as it should be but it’s a really positive first step into pregnancy that encourages you to become aware of your body on a whole new level. This awareness – of yourself, your menstrual cycle, your overall health and your support network – is the kind of self care that is absolutely essential in pregnancy, postpartum and parenthood.

These five simple steps may improve your chances of conceiving and will ultimately ensure you start your pregnancy in the best possible way.

1. Find a GP you Trust.

Granted this isn’t always easy but it’s definitely worthwhile. A family GP who listens intently and offers you unbiased guidance will serve you well in pregnancy and parenthood. Book an appointment with your GP to discuss your preconception experience. No doubt they will suggest a full blood panel (a thorough blood test) to check your immunity to common viruses that can be dangerous in pregnancy, including STDs, as well as your iron and Vitamin D levels. You can also expect a discussion about your immunisation history and you’ll be advised to have boosters before you conceive. You might like to check out 10 Questions to ask at your prenatal appointment.

You can also expect your GP to discuss your family’s medical history with you as well as your current health concerns. If you smoke or drink, they will strongly advise you to quit. Smoking can significantly affect your chances of conceiving and the risks it poses in pregnancy can’t be ignored; smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, fetal growth restriction and stillbirth. Chat to your GP about the best way to quit and, if your partner smokes, encourage them to quit too as passive smoking can also be a risk factor in pregnancy (it affects sperm count, too). In regards to alcohol, a safe level of consumption hasn’t been established for pregnancy, hence abstinence is advised.

2. Take a Prenatal Vitamin and Folate.

Not all prenatal vitamins are the same so make sure you do a bit of reading, ask your GP for their advice and, if you see a naturopath or nutritionist, consider their recommendations too. Folic acid or folate is recommended for all pregnant women as it significantly decreases the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida (400mg a day during preconception and for the first trimester of pregnancy). Packaged bread is fortified with folic acid but recent studies show that not all women absorb folic acid. However, everyone can absorb folate (the natural form of folic acid) so it’s a great option for pre-conception. You’ll find prenatal vitamins and folate at pharmacies and health food stores. It’s also a good idea to look at your overall diet, too. At this stage you should be prioritising a balanced, colourful diet that includes fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and if you eat animal products, meat and eggs. Minimising your sugar intake is definitely recommended and being aware of how much caffeine you consume is a good idea as in pregnancy you’re advised to limit your caffeine intake to 1-2 cups a day (coffee, black tea and green tea).

3. If You’ve Got Low Iron, Restore Your Levels Before You Conceive.

A significant number of women start pregnancy with low iron and it can be a bit troublesome during pregnancy and postpartum. Iron is the mineral responsible for the production of red blood cells and in pregnancy, you need 15-30 per cent more red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body and to your baby. This isn’t an issue if you’ve got iron in reserve but if you’re already low in iron, it can lead to anaemia which can put you at risk of premature birth, postpartum haemorrhage and postnatal depression. The symptoms of low iron are very much considered common pregnancy symptoms (fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, trouble concentrating, restless legs) but the treatment isn’t always easy as many iron tablets can make you constipated (again, a common pregnancy symptom but severe constipation from iron tablets can be incredibly uncomfortable and isn’t great for your pelvic floor health). You’ll be encouraged to take iron tablets with vitamin C which helps your body absorb the iron but avoid taking them with dairy as it can inhibit iron absorption. If iron supplementation doesn’t improve your levels,  you may be advised to have an iron infusion which is administered via IV at your GP surgery or your local hospital. If you have the opportunity to treat low iron before you conceive, do it.

4. Get To Know Your Menstrual Cycle.

Do you know when you’re ovulating? Ovulation is a 3-5 day window of opportunity for you to conceive. It typically occurs 14 days after the first day of menstruation but this can differ significantly from one woman to the next. One of the best ways to observe your cycle is to observe your vaginal mucous; it’s a reliable indicator of your fertile window. Take note of the discharge on your underwear or when you wipe after urinating. It’s best to record it every day so you can become aware of the different types of vaginal mucous. During your cycle, you will have days where you feel dry, sticky, wet or slippery. Generally, when you’re close to or at ovulation, your cervix produces more vaginal mucous which will be clear, slippery and stretchy (it’s often described as being like egg white, the perfect consistency to carry sperm).

5. Consider Your Pregnancy Care Options.

It’s never too early to look into your local care options and consider how they may work for you. Your options will be dictated by your location (for women living in regional and rural areas, these will be limited) and your birth preferences. If you are interested in birthing in a hospital, you’ll choose between private care with an obstetrician in a private hospital (you’ll need obstetric health cover for 12 months prior to conceiving to access this care with a rebate or you can expect to pay roughly $10,000) or midwifery care in the public system which is completely free if you have a Medicare card. Alternatively, you may like to explore your home birth or birth centre options which are suitable for low-risk pregnancies and births. You can read more about choosing your care provider HERE

Further reading: Conscious Conception

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