I know, I know: the idea of having a baby may be a mere glimmer of a thought for you are right now. Or not on your horizon at all. Or perhaps even a fate you're actively trying to avoid! But as a midwife-doctor who has helped bring many babies into the world, there are three things I’d love for you to consider before you assume this article is not for you:
- Half of all pregnancies in the US are not intended. (Don't forget that this statistic applies to uber-hip yoga-loving foodie women, too!) A friend of mine even named her baby Daisy, as in Whoopsie!
- Your health LONG BEFORE you get pregnant determines your future baby’s health. That includes protecting him from allergies, eczema, asthma, depression, gut problems, autoimmune disease, diabetes, heart disease, and even autism. Seriously.
- The world we create today is the world our kids will inherit tomorrow. If we make our choices healthy now, we make our world healthy for them later.
Here are the 7 most important things you can do — starting NOW — to up your ante on a healthy pregnancy LATER. And should you find yourself unexpectedly seeing two lines on a pregnancy test … well, you’ll already have been creating a perfect environment for your little person.
1. If you're sexually active, take your vitamins.
The medical recommendation is that all women who are having sex should take folic acid (a B-vitamin) because it’s just that important for protecting your baby’s health against neural tube defects. But not only that, it protects against miscarriage, preterm birth, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia in pregnancy, and can prevent autism in your baby. With autism rates in the US now at 1 in 68 kids, I’d say that’s a vitamin worth taking!
I recommend 400 mcg to 1 mg of the active form, called methylfolate, for optimum protection. Also, while you’re at it, hop on the fish oil train and add in some vitamin D3 (1,000 to 2,000 units daily), both of which can prepare you for an optimal pregnancy, and which are great for your health even now.
2. Can the tuna — and all other high mercury fish.
It’s a scary fact: newborns are loaded up with about 300 chemicals that can be identified in their umbilical cord blood at birth. Fish is a super-nutritious protein source, but some are loaded with mercury. Mercury (and other heavy metals) in mom literally download directly to baby throughout the pregnancy and can cause a host of health problems. Mercury is particularly noxious because it affects the neurologic and hormonal systems. Check out the Environmental Working Group's list of fish to avoid for more information.
3. Clean up your cosmetics.
Most women apply as many as 10 body products before leaving for work in the morning, and most of those have a dozen ingredients, some of which are known toxins, including lead found in some lipsticks and eyeliners! Our skin is our biggest organ — a lot of what goes on, also goes in! As with mercury, we accumulate these chemicals over our lifetime, and then baby inherits more than just our good looks — baby gets a cosmetic chemical infusion! Once again, the EWG is your go-to resource for the best cosmetics and body products to start using now.
4. Go organic (or at least stick to the Clean 15).
Studies show that exposure to pesticides leads to lower IQ scores in kids. The stakes are really high for our kids’ mental health and neurological functioning. While going fully organic might not be practical or even necessary, start now by doing your best to at least avoid “The Dirty Dozen,” the list of foods that has the highest level of pesticide contamination, or go organic on these.
5. Get to your optimal weight.
This is not just a matter of vanity! Women who enter pregnancy overweight have a much high risk of prenatal and birth complications and need for a C-section, and baby is much more likely to have a host of health problems ranging from allergies, asthma, and obesity in childhood to diabetes and heart disease later in life. Find the right program for you, based on whole foods, wise eating habits, and yoga or your other fave form of exercise. Having the body you love now could help you have the healthiest baby possible down the road.
Stress messes with your hormones and causes fertility problems. Stress messes with your blood sugar and insulin levels and causes pregnancy problems. And stress in pregnancy can lead to depression, anxiety, and obesity in our kids. In fact, it's estimated that at least 80% of all health problems are caused by stress. WOWZA! That’s a lot of mess from stress. Ok, some stress is unavoidable — the goal here is to keep it from hijacking your life!
So, pick your healing tool: yoga, meditation, exercise, counseling, making big scary but needed life/work/relationship transformations … just do it. Conquer that stress and cultivate peace. This equals a better you, better babies, and a better world.
7. Have the guts to protect the next generation.
Of course, you can’t get through an article on a health website these days without hearing about the microbiome. But did you know that a person’s gut flora is pretty much determined by age three, and most of it's all thanks to mom? Mom having a healthy gut flora (and then having a vaginal birth and breastfeeding) are like investing in gold for baby’s gut flora bank account. And it all starts long before pregnancy.
The top things you can do to create a healthy gut flora for yourself:
- Avoid antibiotics (unless of course truly necessary — and they rarely are)
- Eat a wide variety of foods, and especially leafy greens and fermented foods
- Take a good quality probiotic.
Remember, you might not be thinking about having a baby any time soon. In fact, you might be thinking about how NOT to have a baby. But pregnancy can happen at any time, so why not be in optimal health going in? And it’s really true that what we do now affects generations to come.