Are you ready to start trying for a baby? Preparing your body and optimising your health is the first step in preparation. These are the 5 essential steps to getting your body ready for pregnancy and conception.

It doesn’t matter what stage of life you are in, your health should always be a priority…but, we get it, life sometimes gets in the way of that. When it comes to preparing for pregnancy, making sure your health is in the best possible state will improve your chances of conception and lower any risks during pregnancy. Traditionally, preconception health can be looked over – but not on our watch! We want you to have the best chances at getting pregnant!

If planning for a baby is at the forefront, you need to start preparing for pregnancy at least six months before you start actively trying. Ideally, a year in advance is the gold standard, giving your body enough time for change.

Here are 5 things you can do to help prepare your body for conception and improve your fertility:

 

Understand your menstrual cycle and start tracking

Start tracking your menstrual cycles and the symptoms that you experience. This will allow you to identify the phases of your menstrual cycle; and pay close attention to when you ovulate. It is during ovulation when you are the most fertile, which is when you can fall pregnant.

You can begin to track your menstrual cycles by noting down the dates in which your periods begin and end. Repeat this for every menstrual cycle and look to identify how long your average cycle lasts.

We recommend you read more about the phases of the menstrual cycle so you have a better understanding, but it is typically day 14 of an average cycle that a female will be ovulating and release an egg to be fertilised.

There are also a number of mobile apps available that can help you to track your menstrual cycle and ovulation…give one a try! Your body will experience biological changes that indicate ovulation in particular, such as a change to your vaginal discharge and an increase in basal body temperature, however we recommend you pay attention to these whilst using an app for guidance.

If you have been using hormonal contraception (of any form), now is the time to stop and give your body time for your menstrual cycle to return regularly and for you to start ovulating again.

 

Clean up your nutrition

Eating a healthy and balanced diet is one of the most undervalued changes you can make to improve your preconception health. When eating this healthy balanced diet, you will be getting all of the nutrients needed to support your body through day-to-day life, but also to prepare for a 9-month stint of nutrient sharing. This really is the time to get your nutrition right!

Being obese or underweight negatively impacts fertility and ovulation

Being underweight can stop your menstrual cycle altogether; so it is very important to look at how our nutrition is impacting our health.

Being a healthy weight will reduce potential risks during pregnancy and allow your body to be in a comfortable place where it can conceive. If you are struggling to reach a healthy weight, it is recommended that you speak to a Doctor to identify if there are any underlying health problems which may be impacting this and what an ideal weight for you may be. You can also get help from Blossom Wellness Founder, Louise, who offers a 1-to-1 service to help women with their preconception nutrition, training and wellbeing.

It is very important that your body is getting enough nutrients from a varied diet for optimal health. As a general rule, you need to be hitting the recommended 5-a-day (as a minimum!), which is consuming at least 5 total portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Not only this, at least 20% of your diet needs to be made up of protein, and healthy fats are essential for optimal hormone function. Think nuts, seeds, olive oil and oily fish.

Supplements

When it comes to supplements, it is recommended to begin taking prenatal supplements as soon as you are preparing for pregnancy. At Blossom Wellness, we encourage as many vitamins and minerals obtained through your diet, but recognise the place of supplements that can provide you with everything that you need…there is a lot! It is important that you do not take more than the recommended dose of your prenatal supplement, as excess vitamin A can have negative impacts for pregnancy.

To get you started, here is a daily check-list in regards to your nutrition:

Look at your lifestyle choices and habits

We need to give a disclaimer here… it isn’t only the interest of female’s to look at lifestyle choices and habits.

Actually, most of these points are worth your partner adopting too. However, it is the lifestyle habits that a medical professional will look at right away when assessing fertility. Your lifestyle choices and habits really are the first place to start.

You probably know what is coming. Those social cigarettes and glasses of wine are the first things to curb. These will not only impact your overall health and your hormone balance but also your future baby’s health.

Smoking

The chemical components of cigarettes (and cigars) will disrupt our female physiology, specifically the processes in which hormones are produced and regulated (think hypothalamus, thyroid, adrenal gland and even the ovaries). It is not impossible to get pregnant when smoking, but your chances of getting pregnant are impacted.

 

Fertility Hormones and Smoking

Cortisol
Cortisol (AKA the stress hormone) is released as a response to stress, leading to what we know as the fight, flight or freeze response. When in this mode, the brain uses cortisol to divert energy away from non-essential bodily functions in a bid to ensure we have energy to escape and keep us alive. Smoking has been linked to increased cortisol levels and also disrupting the regulation of the hormone.
Estrogen
Smoking is anti-estrogenic, meaning it has a negative impact on estrogen levels. Studies have also shown that females who smoke have lower estrogen levels in their blood and also follicular fluid, which impacts the development of an egg. Smoking increases the levels of a hormone called sex hormone-binding globulin which binds to estrogen; preventing it from being absorbed and performing it’s essential functions around the body.
Lutenising Hormone + Follicle Stimulating Hormone
Both LH and FSH are gonadotropin hormones, which are released by the hypothalamus to regulate the menstrual cycle and begin ovulation. It has been found that female smokers have higher gonadotropin levels in the first half of the menstrual cycle which can cause problems with fertility.
Prolactin
The hormone prolactin is produced by the pituitary gland and is most commonly associated with milk production during pregnancy, but it is important to remember that prolactin plays a role in other parts of the body too; just like many of our hormones. There is a link between chronic smoking and decreased prolactin levels, which could cause difficulty to breastfeed, mood swings and irregular menstrual cycles.
Testosterone
Testosterone is a hormone produced by ovaries, but in much smaller amounts when compared to the production of testosterone in a male. You may hear testosterone being referenced as an androgen. Smoking is likely to increase the level of testosterone in the blood of females. Increased testosterone levels have been linked to negative side effects that are seen in those that suffer with PCOS, as well as influencing a low libido which of course is not ideal for conception! It is the nicotine in smoking products that prevent the breakdown of testerone, leaving too much within the blood and potentially wrecking havoc on your hormone balance.

Alcohol

For some, alcohol can be arguably the toughest vice to cut back on when preparing our bodies with pregnancy in mind.

While we understand more about alcohol’s negative impact on pregnancy, its effects on fertility and conception are not as clear. Currently, the NHS advises women to steer clear of alcohol while actively trying to conceive, mainly because we might not realise that we have actually got pregnant until a few weeks in, and drinking during the early stages could pose a threat to the pregnancy and harm the baby. And since there is no known safe level of alcohol for a developing foetus, it is best to steer clear of it altogether.

Consuming alcohol in any amount can affect chances of conception, ability to maintain a pregnancy and impact the health of your baby when you do fall pregnant. Although we cannot pinpoint the exact cause, some research suggests that alcohol may disrupt hormone levels, which can have implications for fertility.

Alcohol intake has been linked to increased estrogen, lutenising hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone levels, whilst reducing progesterone. These hormonal changes can affect the menstrual cycle, particularly ovulation, thereby reducing the chance of conceiving. Not only this, elevated estrogen levels due to alcohol consumption can decrease the likelihood of successful implantation, where the fertilised egg attaches to the uterus lining. If this implantation fails, pregnancy will not occur.

Considering these potential effects, it is best to start cutting back on alcohol consumption and gradually work your way to zero. Those cheeky glasses of vino may not be worth compromising your chances of preparing your body for a healthy pregnancy.

 

Manage your stress

So much easier said than done, we know.

Stress is an inevitable part of life, we simply cannot avoid it altogether…and taking a long bath with a book every few weeks or booking yourself a massage is just not going to cut it. Your mental health and wellbeing needs constant upkeep. Could your stress levels be impacting your conception journey? Or perhaps your conception journey is making you stressed? Are you stressed about being stressed? We get it, it can all get a little too much!

We have touched on the stress hormone, cortisol, earlier in this article, but what actually is stress? Stress can be characterised as any circumstance (internal or external) that disrupts the balance between the living body and its environment. In today’s society, we are unintentionally exposed to stressors everywhere, never mind the stressors that we do know about. Whether that be work, family, relationships, your mental health, money, physical health and even simply glancing at the pile of ironing that you have been neglecting for the last week can cause a stress response.

The pile of ironing isn’t the root of your stress, but it is a good example for describing how stress works in ways that aren’t the typical stressful situations you’d think of (like being chased by a knife-wielding maniac). The fact is, that pile of ironing is of no threat to you. You could leave it for another month and it would pose no threat to your safety, health or wellbeing – but it still provides a stress response internally.

Your hypothalamus (area of the brain that controls hormones) pulls the trigger and releases stress hormones when you look at the pile of clothes every day. The fight-or-flight response is activated because of that pile of clothes. It sounds crazy, but it is true. It is very unlikely to feel the urge to fight the clothes or run away from them, but your heart will beat faster than what is your norm, your breathing may become faster and your muscles will tighten. It is likely to be all very subtle, but the body’s alarm of protecting you is ringing. If our brains are constantly pulling the trigger on the stress hormones without taking breaks, our health will be negatively impacted and so will our fertility.

We need to be managing stress day-to-day, but the thing to really look out for is chronic stress. This simply means being stressed very often, or all of the time.

Signs you are chronically stressed:

  • Mental Symptoms – Brain fog or forgetfulness, feeling overwhelmed, anxious and struggling to concentrate.
  • Physical Symptoms – Low libido, muscle tightness (usually in your upper back or neck), headaches and digestion problems.
  • Behavioural Symptoms – Sleeping too much or too little, finding the things you enjoy can be a struggle, irritability, overeating or undereating and avoiding people or places that you frequent

Experiencing chronic stress and constantly being in survival mode can take a toll on your body, and it is likely to manifest in your menstrual cycle with irregular periods, ovulation issues, or longer cycles.

For some women who are under-eating and over-exercising, their periods might disappear altogether. This is a condition known as hypothalamic amenorrhea

Managing stress is not a once-in-a-while task. Your mental health and well-being require consistent attention, but it is a commitment that pays back more than its dues. Here are some tips to get you started on managing stress:

  • If something isn’t serving you, let it go. Declutter your life, including the clothes in the back of your wardrobe that you’ve been keeping “just in case”. If you haven’t worn them in the past year, consider donating them
  • Take control of your social media by switching off notifications. Those small interruptions can cause a stress response by interrupting what we are doing, trying to pull us away and distract us from the present task
  • Detox your social media by unfollowing accounts that make you feel anything less than good (the Kardashian’s is a good place to start!). This does require self-reflection and an honest conversation with yourself, but it is totally worth it!
  • Invest in yourself, whether it is getting a journal and making it your best friend, or invest in therapy. Writing down your thoughts can be surprisingly helpful for managing stress, and seeking support from a professional is a big, but sometimes very necessary step. We are all on a journey, and let’s not beat around the bush, life is hard. We all need help at some point.
  • Find joy in movement. If one type of movement doesn’t work for you, try something else. Regular exercise doesn’t have to be intense or scary. Find activities you enjoy like joining a netball club or daily walks outdoors. Regular exercise will also help with maintaining a healthy weight and give you a regular boost of feel good hormones!

 

Get a health review

 

Preparing for pregnancy is an exciting journey, and the final step that we recommend is seeking preconception healthcare and regular check-ups.

Prioritising your health before conception sets the stage for a successful and healthy pregnancy. You can do this by having a medical professional assess your overall health, address any existing medical conditions and get additional support to optimise your well-being.

A medical appointment to examine your current health status can identify any potential issues and address them before it can get complicated. In these appointments they will ask about how you are looking after other aspects of your health and well-being, like stress management, nutrition and lifestyle changes (all of what we have mentioned here…so best get ahead of the game!).

You may also like to discuss genetic testing and screening, which for some can play a significant role in healthcare. Understanding potential risks and genetic conditions can help you and your partner make informed decisions about your family planning. Genetic testing can identify carriers of genetic disorders, offering insight into potential risks that may be passed on to your future child. Armed with this knowledge, you can work closely with your healthcare provider to create a proactive plan that addresses any concerns and prepares you for a healthy pregnancy.

It is important to remember that every individual and partnership is unique, and a healthcare provider can tailor recommendations based on your medical history, lifestyle and goals. Not only for you, but for your partner too. Taking care of your health before conception will help to set a foundation for the most positive pregnancy experience possible.

 

Before you go

Preparing your body is an essential on the path to parenthood. We understand that for some, it just happens. For others, it doesn’t and having a baby is a life-changing process in ways that we don’t always see.

Getting pregnant with intention will often require knowledge and dedication, but by understanding your menstrual cycle, tracking ovulation, and optimising your nutrition, you can begin that journey and get ahead of any potential roadblocks that could occur further down the line. Making positive lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and regularly exercising can have a significant impact on your fertility and wellbeing. Seeking professional preconception healthcare is invaluable.

Take charge of your health and well-being, and make the commitment to not only improving your chances of conception, but also your life now. Remember, it is your future as a parent that begins with this journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

Read more about this topic

How can I prepare my body for pregnancy?
To prepare your body for pregnancy, you need to get your overall health in check. This means addressing any medical issues, tune into your wellbeing, start exercising regularly, eat a healthy and balanced diet, as well as quitting smoking and drinking alcohol.
What is the preconception period, and how long should it be?
The preconception period is the time before getting pregnant. There is no recommended length of time, but for the best chances of getting pregnant when you want to, we suggest working on your preconception health as soon as possible.
How does nutrition and diet impact fertility?
A balanced and nutrient-rich diet supports your fertility by contributing to regulating your hormones, promoting regular menstrual cycles and enhancing egg quality. A poor diet disrupts how your hormones interact with each other, affecting hormone balance and may lead to fertility issues.
What lifestyle changes can improve fertility?
Quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake or stopping it altogether, regular exercise, stress management, good quality sleep and a healthy diet.
How can I track my ovulation and identify fertile days?
You can track your ovulation and identify fertile days by tracking your menstrual cycles. You can do this with apps like Flo, by tracking your basal body temperature with Natural Cycles and your vaginal discharge.
What are the best practices for timing intercourse during ovulation?
Sperm lives in the vaginal canal for up to 6 days. It is best to have sperm readily available for when the egg is released, so it is best to time your intercourse before ovulation as well as during.
When should I seek preconception healthcare?
As soon as you are thinking about having a baby.
Are there any specific foods that can boost fertility?
The best way to boost fertility with food, is by having a well balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables and healthy sat sources.
How can stress affect fertility and conception?
Excessive or chronic stress will disrupt how our hormones interact with each other. When this happens, our menstrual cycles can become irregular and prevent ovulation which prevents conception and negatively impacts fertility.

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