If you’re reading this, you’re likely not already pregnant (or if you are, you probably don’t know yet). Maybe your friends are having kids and you’re sort of toying with the idea, or you know you want to start a family when the time is right, or maybe having a baby is further in the future for you. Regardless, for women in their late twenties and thirties, it’s an optimal time to start at least thinking about family planning, even if that means looking into a practice like egg freezing to get pregnant at a later time.
If you are closer to starting your parenthood journey, Elizabeth Zapp, MD, a doctor at Parsley Health, recommends setting a wellness plan at least a year ahead of the time you want to start trying. That way, you can start prepping yourself mentally, physically, and nutritionally, which will push your body to peak health for when you want to start trying for a baby. Parsley Health works with women at every stage of the maternal journey, including preparing your body for pregnancy: Here’s how to optimize your diet, exercise, and stress management ahead of having a baby, whether you’re 6 months away, a year out, or even a couple of years away from getting pregnant.
Two years before trying for a baby
Detox your body from any harmful substances.
This should be a given, but a while before getting pregnant, you’ll want to quit substances like recreational drugs, smoking, and drinking alcohol in excess. But there are also much less obvious toxins in health, beauty, and cleaning products you should also avoid. These products can often act as endocrine disruptors, meaning they may contain chemicals such as BPA in the packaging, especially if it’s plastic, or in the products themselves, that could change the balance of your hormones and negatively affect your fertility when you’re trying to conceive. Not only that, but these toxins could be passed on to babies through pregnancy and breastfeeding, and may affect their brain development and normal levels of the hormones they need to grow, research states. Healthy detoxing from these substances involves first, using cleaner, chemical-free health products, and second, supporting natural detox processes in the body through good sleep, nutrition, stress management, and exercise, Dr. Zapp says.
Clean up your diet.
Generally speaking, it’s best to follow a colorful whole foods diet. Dr. Zapp recommends eating as many plants as possible and loading up on healthy fats (omega-3’s are especially important for fetal brain development during pregnancy, according to research). And if it’s accessible for you to eat organic, go for it, as you’ll encounter fewer chemicals in food that way. For protein, get good quality protein with every meal and aim for a daily intake of around 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you eat mostly plant-based, make sure you get protein from whole grains such as quinoa and high-protein plants like spirulina. If you eat soy protein, go with organic soy (in the form of tempeh, edamame, or tofu), Dr. Zapp says.
This goes more for if you’re actively trying to get pregnant, but you should exercise caution with seafood quality. “Choose wild seafood and lower mercury fish—that’ll be a good source of omega-3’s,” Dr. Zapp says.
Maintain a healthy weight.
“It’s great to go into pregnancy at a healthy weight, which will make for an easier pregnancy and delivery,” Dr. Zapp says. She recommends that your BMI falls somewhere between 18 and 30, but more importantly, you should work with your doctor to determine what a healthy weight looks like for you, given your family and medical history. Obesity is often associated with infertility because your hormone levels might not be regulated, studies show. Being overweight might also contribute to more complications during pregnancy and delivery, Dr. Zapp adds.
However, it’s not healthy to be underweight while pregnant or while trying to get pregnant, either. Underweight women, Dr. Zapp says, may not have regular menstrual cycles and ovulation (especially if they’ve struggled with eating disorders). If you’re underweight, you may also have trouble carrying the baby and may be at greater risk for complications than women who are at a healthy weight while pregnant.
Find a routine for exercise and stress management.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises that most pregnant women can continue whatever workouts they were doing before getting pregnant, so it’s great to get into a regular exercise routine a while beforehand. Specifically, the ACOG recommends healthy pregnant women get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, but if you do vigorous intensity aerobic activity or are highly active, you’ll likely be able to continue that during pregnancy. Dr. Zapp adds that your pre-pregnancy routine should be a balance of strength, cardio, high-intensity, balance, and flexibility movements.
Managing your stress levels is also a major part of preparing your body to get pregnant. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can negatively impact other important fertility hormones. Exercise is key to keeping stress down, along with establishing a sleep routine of a solid seven to nine hours each night, Dr. Zapp says. Also, your twenties and thirties are the perfect time to cultivate a support network that you can lean on while you’re trying to get pregnant, and during pregnancy.
“Preparing for pregnancy is all about changing what you can control about your health, like establishing a healthy work-life balance,” Dr. Zapp says. “And for what you can’t control, there’s mindfulness.” She recommends finding a type of meditation you enjoy most and practicing it daily to help manage stress.
1 year before trying to get pregnant
Start regulating your cycle.
To get pregnant, it’s important to ovulate regularly, which usually ties in with having regular menstrual cycles, because then you’re generally ovulating at the same time every month (the typical time is about 2 weeks away from your period). If you have a regular period each month, which is likely if you’re on hormonal birth control, you’re in a good place for this stage of preparing for pregnancy. “But, if you’re thinking of getting pregnant and you’re not having regular cycles, work with your doctor, and get evaluated to make sure there’s nothing additional going on, like PCOS or thyroid issues, both common problems that could contribute to infertility,” Dr. Zapp says. Many women struggle with hormonal imbalances that lead to irregular periods, but Parsley Health doctors and health coaches frequently resolve these imbalances and help women regulate their cycle.
Consider prenatal vitamins.
It’s a good idea to start taking prenatal vitamins a year before you plan on getting pregnant, but at the very least, Dr. Zapp recommends adding a prenatal at least three months before you try. The main reason for taking them is getting enough folate in your diet to prevent birth defects: You might not get enough of the B-vitamin, found in eggs and green leafy veggies, from food. Parsley offers a prenatal multivitamin, which will also include omega-3’s, iron, and vitamins A, C, D, and E.
Six months before trying to get pregnant
Switch to medications that will be safer for pregnant women.
“In general, with medications, most have not been tested on pregnant women. It often comes down to a risk-benefit discussion with your doctor,” Dr. Zapp says. Of course, you have to be reasonable—if you have depression or another similar mental health condition that requires medication, it won’t benefit you or your baby to get off your normal meds, she adds.
If you take medication for high blood pressure, especially an ACE inhibitor drug, you should work with your doctor and switch to something safer for pregnant women, like a calcium channel blocker drug, Dr. Zapp explains. Another similar situation is blood sugar management pills—there are certain medications that are safer than others. And if you’re on oral or topical retinols for acne, it’d be best to find a safer solution before trying to get pregnant, Dr. Zapp advises, since medications such as Acutane can cause birth defects.
Stop taking hormonal birth control.
When preparing your body for pregnancy, an important step is to get off any kind of birth control to make sure you have regular cycles without it. With contraceptives that prevent ovulation, like the Pill, ring, or patch, it may take a bit longer for the ovaries to adjust to releasing eggs again. If you remove any kind of IUD, on the other hand, your ovulation should be normal as soon as you take it out since IUDs don’t actually halt your ovulation.
Look into your nutritional markers.
Measuring your nutritional levels is important in general, but you should definitely have a handle on your levels before trying to conceive. At Parsley Health, doctors look at important pregnancy nutrients like Vitamin D3, iron, omega-3’s, selenium, zinc, and magnesium levels, says Dr. Zapp. Iron is particularly important when you’re pregnant because your body uses it to make extra blood to accommodate both you and your baby. Your doctor will evaluate your levels and help you optimize anything that’s not in range through diet or supplements.
Prepare your immune system.
Along with solidifying nutrient levels, you’ll want your immune system to be strong and equipped to fight any diseases that can cause issues throughout pregnancy (including zika, varicella, and rubella). Make sure that you’ve been adequately vaccinated for any of these diseases, Dr. Zapp says. Also, it’s a good idea to check in with your OB/GYN about getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening before thinking about becoming pregnant.