Doulas, Lamaze and Braxton-Hicks contractions . . . all the pregnancy lingo can baffle even the most well-researched mommy-to-be, let alone someone just beginning to think about pregnancy.
Before getting too into those details, it may be a good idea to learn about what you can do even during the preconception period. Whether you are engaged, a new bride, struggling with infertility, or simply plan to have children in your future, a healthy body will matter to your baby and to your happiness as well.
01. Know thyself.
This Ancient Greek aphorism comes from Plato’s dialogues, but we can apply it to our own modern understanding of our bodies. Whether you’re trying to conceive, avoid pregnancy, or just think about it, the starting point is understanding your natural cycle. Dr. Kathryn A. Karges, MD, OB-GYN, who is fellowship-trained in the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and NaProTechnology, recommends charting your cycle as a great way to start monitoring health. The Creighton Model FertilityCare System trains women to recognize their natural biomarkers—mainly vaginal mucus secretions throughout a woman’s cycle—that are “an authentic language of a woman’s health and fertility.”
Because a woman is charting her cycles prospectively, she is in tune with her body and can pick up on changes that may be significant. For example, delayed periods can be caused by a number of factors—it could just be stress causing delayed ovulation, or it might be something more serious—and charting allows you to know your body’s natural rhythms and when they’re off. Knowledge is power! Learn more about charting your cycle, and find a physician who knows how to treat you holistically.
02. Give your baby a strong head start.
Most women start taking a prenatal vitamin after they find out they are pregnant. But by then, you’re almost two months into your pregnancy! Your baby’s heart is already beating, and her brain is forming the primitive neural pathway. Dr. Karges suggests, “Every woman of childbearing age should take a multivitamin or folic acid supplement containing at least 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid daily. This is very important to help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Studies have shown it’s most important to be on such a vitamin for at least three months before conception. Taking a multivitamin may also help prevent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.”
03. Don’t distress. De-stress.
Stress not only affects your mental and spiritual well-being, but it also influences your ovulation and menstrual cycle. Chronic stress can contribute to periods of infertility. Undue stress might manifest through dry cycles, periods when no mucus appears throughout the month and when menstruation may not occur. And even babies in utero can sense your stress hormones. Research shows that a pregnant woman’s exposure to stress, trauma, or the daily grind can lead to significant alterations in her child’s neurodevelopment. Stress puts the baby at risk for behavioral problems, autism, and a reduced attention span. So whatever works to de-stress yourself— a massage, taking a walk, or uncluttering— try to be a happy woman inside and out!
04. Eat right.
You may be hypersensitive about your intake while pregnant, but you should begin taking care before your bump starts to grow. The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care by Sally Fallon Morell suggests that “good nutrition for ensuring a truly healthy baby needs to start before baby is conceived.” Healthy diet trends support a healthy pregnancy, but they should also continue through recovery and breast-feeding to give you the most energy and happiness. Cooking with coconut oil, for example, gives you an energy boost with less fat than other oils and enhances your baby’s neural development. The new and natural alternative to coffee? Well, maybe!
05. Be gentle on yourself.
Having a baby is a positive, life-changing experience. But having anxiety about pregnancy or infertility can sometimes prevent that change from happening. Don’t be hard on yourself for not getting pregnant immediately. And don't wonder about what it would be like if you’d put it off a little longer. All good things come with time. Live your life as if you were a dedicated mother. Give time to others as if you were giving your time to your child. Taking care of yourself is key as well, and restoring your body to top condition is perhaps the best thing you can do. Studies have shown that chiropractic care can influence a couple’s likelihood of conceiving. It can also help ensure a comfortable pregnancy, facilitate an uncomplicated labor, and treat loose ligaments and tight joints after delivery. Realign your thoughts and your body!
06. Detach from your birth plan.
Once that little plus sign appears, all the wonderings and "what ifs" begin. If this is your first pregnancy, you are probably reading every book and blog you can find in order to prepare yourself for the unknown. But each pregnancy and birth, just like each child, is different and often unpredictable. Instead of having a rigid birth plan, think about your personality and body and how those relate to the birth process. For example, how do you respond to pain? If you have a low pain threshold, it may be best to consider options for pain medication management instead of natural techniques to relieve the pain. Does medical intervention make you uncomfortable? It might be best to consider a birthing center, midwife or home birth instead of a hospital where IVs and machines are inevitable. Just remember that there is no shame in any delivery outcome: natural or cesarean; home or hospital.