Planning a baby is not just a mental exercise! There are quite a few things you can do to prepare your body and lifestyle for a new addition to your family. We chat to dietitian Anel Kirsten from Paarl Dietitians and gynecologist, Dr Joh Meiring to find out more.
Dr Joh suggest that you go for a routine check-up before you start planning – it is also important to know if you have any family history of disease so consider meeting with a geneticist if a pre-existing problem stresses you out!
Having a baby is expensive! Dr Meiring suggest that if you are on a Medical Aid, you must make sure that you clarify some questions beforehand. What percentage of your bills will be covered? Can you go to a hospital of your choice or only to designated hospitals. Can you choose your obstetrician or only designated doctors? After birth is your baby covered by medical aid should he or she need treatments? How many antenatal visits to your Obstetrician are you allowed? Find out regarding rates and possible shortfall of what MA is prepared to reimburse. As insurance is currently R650 000 per year because of litigations, many obstetricians cannot afford to practice. If not on a Medical Aid consider some expenses:
- Hospital delivery bill estimate R30 000 (intensive care whether mother or baby because of prematurity can easily go up to R500 000)
- Obstetricians fee from R12000 to R40 000
- Pediatricians fee from R 1500 depending on complications or intensive care etc. …
- Anaesthetist R 2000 to R6000
- Blood tests from R600
- Ultrasounds / fetal assessment can cost from R1000 to R10000 depending on necessity.
It is important to have all your affairs in order when you start trying for a baby.
Watch your Weight
Anel says that 12% of all infertility cases are a result of a woman either weighing too little or too much. Many underweight, overweight and obese women have no problem getting pregnant. But others will have problems conceiving.
Research has shown that being underweight or being overweight and obese can lead to fertility problems by creating hormonal disturbances. The main ingredient in the body weight and fertility mix is estrogen (a sex hormone produced in fat cells).
* A woman with too little body fat can’t produce enough estrogen and her reproductive cycle begins to shut down. Often causes irregular menstrual cycles and may cause ovulation to stop altogether.
* If a woman has too much body fat, the body produces too much estrogen and may also lead to irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation. However, even obese women with normal ovulation cycles have lower pregnancy rates than normal weight women, so ovulation isn’t the only issue.
One of the easiest ways to determine if you are underweight or overweight is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). A BMI between 19 and 24 is considered normal; less than 18.5 is considered underweight. A BMI between 25 and 29 is considered overweight and greater than 30 places you in the category of obese. Even a small 3-5% weight loss can reduce insulin resistance by 40-60% and improve fertility! Healthy weight gain or loss is regarded as 500g to 1kg per week.
Get those baby-making nutrients in
Anel says that getting your body ready for baby-making isn’t only about tossing your birth control and charting your ovulation. It’s also about laying the nutritional foundation for healthy baby building. Begin your eating-well campaign even before you conceive (technically these are your first weeks of pregnancy) and you’ll be doing yourself (and your soon-to-be embryo) a favour.
Make clever Protein choices
Protein is a critical part of a healthy diet and we should choose lean protein. Eat less red meat (e.g. lamb) and choose leaner protein sources such as lean beef, fish, turkey, chicken breast, pork or game. Be cautious of hidden fats found in foods such as beef patties, sausages, boerewors, russians, pate, bacon, pies, pastries. Ready meals and take aways are also often high in fat.
Rethink refined carbs and sugar
Lots of refined carbohydrates, like white bread, won’t directly lower your likelihood of getting pregnant but they will shortchange your body. The refining process strips key nutrients from grains. Among those lost are several that boost fertility, such as antioxidants, B vitamins and iron. A woman trying to conceive should pack her diet with as many nutrient-rich foods as possible – and whole grains are a great place to start.
Be Smart about Fats
New research indicates that a high-fat diet could impact fertility in both men and women. They specifically examined the impact of high trans fat intake on fertility rates in men. Fertilization rates were found to be lowest in couples where men had diets highest in trans fat intake.
Choose Omega-3 fats
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids and are associated with many positive health effects and which your body needs for optimal fertility. Omega-3s are important for a baby’s brain and eye development and have many other pregnancy-related benefits, including lowering your risk of preeclampsia. Omega 3 fats are not synthesized by the body and therefore should be obtained by means of your diet. Oily fish like mackerel, sardines, salmon, pilchards, herring, trout, snoek, yellow tail and fresh tuna – frozen, fresh or tinned in brine water or tomato sauce. It is generally recommended that you try to eat 2 portions (90g portion each) per week.
Get Your Fruits and Vegetables
Think of fruits and vegetables as Mother Nature’s multivitamin. Fruits and vegetables not only deliver a wealth of vitamins and minerals, they’re also overflowing with free-radical-busting micronutrients, like phytochemicals and antioxidants. (Free radicals are harmful molecules that can damage the ova, sperm and reproductive organs.) Get the most nutritional bang for your buck by buying brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Try to get about 2 portions of fruit and 2½ cups of veggies a day.
Choose Iron-Rich Foods
An iron-rich diet that comes from vegetables and supplements may lower the risk of ovulatory infertility, according to research. Also, fill your body’s iron reserves before you get pregnant, especially if your periods are particularly heavy. Load up now, because once you’re expecting, your body has difficulty maintaining its iron stores as your baby siphons the mineral from you. To make matters worse, too little iron at the start of pregnancy puts you at risk for postpartum anemia — a condition affecting new moms that causes your red blood cells to fall below normal and saps your energy level.
Break the Habit
Dr Meiring suggest quitting all the bad habits like excessive drinking and smoking. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to menstrual irregularities and impair ovulation in women and sperm production as well as quality in men. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends that if you do drink, that you cut down – women should have no more than one drink a day and men have no more than two drinks a day (one drink equals 340ml of beer or 150ml of wine or 45ml of spirits) if you’re trying to get pregnant. Cigarette smoke contains many toxic substances and numerous of studies have shown that smoking contributes to both male and female infertility and can even impair the outcome of fertility treatments. Studies indicated that men who smoke have abnormalities in sperm production – both sperm quality and quantity, also linked to slow moving sperm. The research on whether caffeine can affect fertility is mixed. Experts generally agree that low to moderate caffeine consumption (less than 300 milligrams a day, or about two 250ml mugs of coffee) won’t get in the way of getting pregnant.But you might want to cut out caffeine altogether if you’re having difficulty conceiving or undergoing in vitro fertilization.
Get that body moving
Exercise is an integral part of any healthy lifestyle and will help with weight issues. When exercise is pursued in healthy moderation, it can actually help to increase fertility. Aim to exercise three to four days a week for 30 minutes. However, too much exercise has been shown to decrease testosterone, which can indirectly lower sperm counts in men and problems with ovulation in women. Avoid steroid use; it can affect fertility by causing testicular shrinkage.
Pack your Vitamins
But the truth is that most people do not have a balanced diet and are unwittingly often deficient in important nutrients. Therefore, it may be a good idea to take a prenatal vitamin or regular multivitamin. There are likely to be significant reproductive health benefits (including enhanced fertility and intrauterine development) associated with the use of nutritional supplements. However there are also certain potential pitfalls associated with their use. Some supplements are not as safe as they would seem. For example, excessive intake of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) can even be dangerous to your health and may be associated with fetal malformations. Best would be to ask a dietitian to recommend a supplement for you.