I. Love. Babies. Also, who doesn’t love babies?
At 30 years old though, I am baby-free and living a life full of delicious (often boxed) wine, date nights with my manfriend, and a somewhat unhealthy but fulfilling shopping addiction. Life is good.
My focus now, after wrapping up grad school, is on establishing a career. Babies, though, always seem to be on my mind. Part of this is possibly a result of being surrounded by several pregnant girlfriends, the other part may be my interest in having a babe in the next few years myself, and that last part may just be because I studied, and am obsessed with, all things Maternal and Child Health.
One of the biggest takeaways from my studies at the University of Minnesota is the rather new emphasis being placed on something called “preconception health.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines preconception health as “the health of women and men during their reproductive years, which are the years they can have a child” (2014).
That’s like, right now.
So much weight has been placed on the health of women during pregnancy, but public health professionals have begun to look a lot more closely at what happens before conception even occurs. That means they are looking at women and men, their health and habits, and the impact it can have on the health of a baby. Studies are showing that the health of both women and men at the time of conception can play a big role in pregnancy and birth outcomes.
This new research points toward how pivotal it is to be in tip-top shape when, and even before, you conceive. This concept was both new and surprising to me as a public health student. Even more surprising? The health of the man (and his little men too, if you will) is crucial as well. Dr. Andrew Prentice, a public health professor of international nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, gave a lecture on the Importance of Nutrition Before and During the First 1000 Days. Dr. Prentice explains that not only does a woman’s health status contribute to the health of the embryo, but a man’s nutritional status plays a big role as well.
He went on to explain that the health of parents at the time of conception is proving to have an impact on a child’s later risk of cancer, likelihood of obesity, and even susceptibility to viral infections and disease (Prentice, 2016).
The research is new, but it appears that our health, along with our partner’s, before and at conception can seriously impact the health of the woman, the pregnancy, and the future outcomes of a child.
So what do we do with this information? Public health professionals suggest we focus on our health for at least three months before conception, or even longer if need be, to help set the stage for a healthy family.
Women are constantly being reminded of the importance of our physical health, but for those of us considering having a child, even one day, our health can impact more than just our bodies, but our future child’s as well.
If you are thinking about entering that next life stage of parenthood, there are some things you and your partner should focus on.
Be on the top of your health game
You know the drill and you’ve heard it all before — except this time, it’s not just about looking good in those skinny jeans. A top-notch diet is especially crucial in the few months leading up to conception or when you actually start trying to get pregnant. Of course nutrition-rich foods are great, and if there was ever a time to go organic, hormone-free, or even meat-free*, the time is now. However, public health experts seem to focus mainly on cutting back on alcohol and finally quitting that bad smoking habit. Not only are alcohol and smoking bad for your physical health, but they can negatively impact your fertility.
Additionally, check out that BMI calculator to see what’s up and if more drastic changes need to be made. Being either overweight or underweight is a risk factor for pregnancy and possibly birth outcomes, so it’s ideal to get in that “normal” range. This will likely take longer than just three months, so keep it in mind as you prepare to have a child.
Lastly, strong is, in fact, the new skinny. Physical activity and wellness are always a good idea and can only help as individuals try to get pregnant. Consider though, that your body’s needs may change once you do become pregnant. Be open to switching up your routine and embrace it. Here in Minneapolis, prenatal specific classes are becoming more popular. Consider joining a yoga studio where you can work out pre and post baby. Barre studios are also a great option as most tailor to pregnancy and target those deep core muscles that babies love to wreak havoc on. **
Get your guy on board too!
It takes two to tango, friends. Preconception health is not all on you, ladies! Be sure your guy is involved as you both embark on this journey. It’s 2018, y’all, and parenthood is more so becoming a level playing field. Thank god. Just don’t get me started on parental leave and quit it with the dads who “babysit” their own children (insert eye roll).
Make it 50/50 from the get-go.
As far as preconception health goes, the role men play is equally as critical as women’s. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s page on preconception health for men and be sure the papa-to-be is on board with Recommendation 1 above as well since their physical health at the point of conception truly impacts the health of your child (Prentice, 2016). Parents.com even came up with a tidy little to-do list for your guy. Have him check it out here.
Emotionally prepare yourselves
I hate to burst any bubbles, but having a baby is hard. Pregnancy and parenthood are often glorified in our society, but the nitty gritty truth isn’t all bubbles and sunshine; instead, it’s often gastrointestinal issues and sleep deprivation. Many have heard of the “baby blues,” a very common experience of mothers as a result of physical and hormonal changes after birth. The “baby blues” can last somewhere around six weeks post birth. What many people are not aware of is that postpartum depression is the number one (I SAID NUMBER ONE) complication of childbirth. Mental health is equally as crucial as physical health when it comes to having a child.
Much of this article focuses on physical preparedness, but it would be a disservice to those of you considering parenthood to not also touch on the importance of mental and emotional health. Whether that means having serious conversations with your partner or your therapist (hopefully together!), jetting off to some fabulous meditative retreat in Fiji, or downloading the calm app on your phone, addressing your mental health before, during, and after this journey to parent-dom is essential.
Prepare yourself and your partner for the difficulties that come along with conceiving, birthing, and having a human you will be responsible for… forever! Do it for your child’s wellbeing, but also for your own.
The importance of preconception health (physical and mental) has given me more of an incentive and definitely more motivation to be healthy sooner rather than later. All the more reason to hit those barre classes hard… and maybe lay off the baked goods.
I said maybe.