two couples smilingIf you’re thinking about pregnancy or currently trying to get pregnant, congratulations on the decision to start a family! Although the logistics of pregnancy may seem rather obvious, things can get a bit more complicated when you factor in ovulation timing, age, and infertility issues.

Trying to conceive can be overwhelming and, at times, it may feel like things are largely out of your hands. But there are plenty of factors you can control. If you’re thinking about

getting pregnant, getting your body in tip-top shape can only help the process. At least three months before you start trying, make sure you add these five priorities to your to-do list.

1. Maintain a healthy weight
Having a normal body mass index (BMI) is important for your overall heath, but it’s also key for conception. Being underweight or overweight can increase your chances of encountering fertility issues. While many underweight or overweight women have no problem conceiving, ovulation issues are more common in these two groups.

A BMI between 19 and 24 is considered normal, while below 19 is underweight and above 24 is overweight or obese. To calculate your BMI, click here.

A BMI of 18.5 or less often causes irregular menstrual cycles and may cause ovulation to stop altogether.
A BMI in the obese range may also lead to irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation. However, keep in mind that obese women with normal ovulation cycles have lower pregnancy rates than normal weight women, so ovulation isn’t the only factor.
Healthy tip: If you’re under- or overweight, visit your doctor prior to trying to conceive to identify any potential roadblocks.

2. Up your nutrients
Maintaining a healthy weight is one thing, but you should also be more conscious about the nutrient density of your food, as well as any supplementation.

A well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and dairy will promote the normal functioning of your reproductive system. The American Pregnancy Association also recommends consuming more of the following nutrients before you get pregnant.

Folic acid: Women of childbearing age should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. This vitamin can be obtained through dark leafy greens, citrus, legumes, and fortified bread and cereal. You can also take a supplement.

Calcium: Women of childbearing age should consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, which can be obtained through low-fat milk, yogurt, dark leafy greens, and even tofu.

Prenatal vitamins: You can try out different brands of prenatal vitamins before you get pregnant to see what works best for you. Some options include vegan, vegetarian, and gummy varieties. Some prenatals already include DHA, or you might need an additional supplement. Your doctor may also recommend a prescription prenatal vitamin, depending on your needs.

Healthy tip: Talk to your doctor about finding the right prenatal vitamin and correct dosage of folic acid to take before you get pregnant.

3. Limit caffeine and alcohol
It’s also important to monitor your caffeine intake while trying to conceive. Limit to no more than 200 to 300 milligrams per day, according to most experts. While there’s no clear link between caffeine consumption and fertility, some research does suggest that it can lead to fertility problems or miscarriage.

Alcohol should be limited during preconception, too. A number of large, multicenter studies indicate that alcohol may have a threshold effect on fertility: “light drinking” (fewer than five drinks per week) may not have a harmful effect, but “heavy drinking” does adversely impact fertility and the developing baby.

Healthy tip: If you drink multiple cups of coffee daily or multiple alcoholic beverages each week, consider cutting back now. It will help your body gradually get used to less so that you don’t experience withdrawal when you are pregnant. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about how much coffee and/or alcohol is safe.

4. Start exercising regularly
Not only will being fit make pregnancy and labor/delivery easier on your body, but participating in moderate physical activity may help you to conceive as well.

One study found that moderate exercise (considered walking, leisurely biking, and golfing) was related to a shorter conception period.

On the other hand, the study also found that among normal weight women who were struggling to conceive, intense exercise (such as running, biking, and vigorous swimming) decreased the chance of conception by 42 percent. This effect was not seen in women who were overweight or obese.

More research needs to be done on the correlation between vigorous physical activity and infertility. Talk to your doctor about your concerns. If you already maintain a high-intensity exercise regime, there’s likely no reason to stop if you are trying to get pregnant. After a few months, if you are still struggling to conceive, your doctor may suggest cutting back.

Healthy tip: If you don’t exercise regularly, aim for 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise most days of the week, plus two to three days of whole-body strength training with a focus on your core.

5. Quit smoking
It’s well-known that smoking can cause many health problems, like heart disease, lung cancer, and strokes.

Unfortunately, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, women who smoke also don’t conceive as efficiently as nonsmokers. The risk for fertility problems increases with the number of cigarettes smoked daily.

Healthy tip: Quitting smoking can improve fertility. The sooner you quit, the better.

The takeaway
Moderate exercise, a healthy, well-balanced diet full of the good stuff, and kicking bad habits generally lower the chances of infertility among women of childbearing age. It’s a good idea to schedule a checkup with your doctor to discuss your health and any questions you may have about getting pregnant. Follow the five tips listed above and you’ll be off to a great start.

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