You might think focusing on your health should increase only once you’re already pregnant, but there’s a lot you can and should be doing from a health standpoint before you conceive or even start trying to have a baby.
Alisa Vitti, integrative nutritionist, founder and CEO of FLO Living and bestselling author of Woman Code, shares her insight into some of the important steps to take to get your body ready to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy.
Health and hormones
Pre-conception health begins with having the right balance of hormones. Vitti stresses the important role hormones play when it comes to conception, and they are one of the first things you need to think about before trying to have a baby. She explains that most women operate with some core level of a hormonal imbalance, meaning the ratio between estrogen and progesterone is not ideal for conceiving. This imbalance can happen for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is diet. “We’ve been so heavily marketed to be constantly on a diet, our bodies may not be in an optimal place to conceive,” Vitti explains. Those diets are not what she describes as “pro-hormonal,” meaning they have a negative effect on hormonal balance.
When on a diet, many women tend to avoid fats, and without fats, even if your body is making the right hormones needed for conception, they are not being transported successfully throughout the body without the dietary fat. “Without the right nutrients or enough fat, your body isn’t optimized for conception, nor do you have the nutrient stores for your growing baby,” says Vitti.
Conception and nutrition
The second piece to the pre-pregnancy health puzzle is nutrition, which goes hand in hand with hormonal balance. “Before conception, you need to really put the focus on nutrition, because your hormones are made from food,” explains Vitti. She adds that diet is critical to giving yourself the best chance to conceive.
What you eat and the nutrients you get create an internal ecosystem that is either ideal for conception or one that can slow down or inhibit the conception process, Vitti explains. “To give yourself the best possible chance of conception, you really need to think about diet.”
Pre-conception health tips
Eating a healthy diet is essential when you’re thinking about getting pregnant, but so is keeping your stress level in check, says Vitti. She explains that when there is too much stress happening, your body goes into what she refers to as “stress response mode,” which can tell your body that it’s not a good time to conceive. If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, then you need to slow down, decrease the stress in your life and give yourself more “me time” before you conceive.
Generally speaking, pre-pregnancy health is just as important as maintaining a healthy lifestyle while you’re pregnant. “You have to treat yourself and your body as if you are already pregnant. This means eating really well, resting a lot, exercising and not doing too much,” Vitti says. “The quality of your pregnancy is determined by everything you’ve been doing to your body and putting [into] your body before you get pregnant.”
What to eat and why
In addition to taking a prenatal vitamin, there are a few key foods women hoping to conceive should add to their diet. Vitti shares some of her top pre-pregnancy picks.
Farm-raised, free-range eggs: This breakfast staple contains the building block for progesterone production, an essential hormone for pregnancy. Eggs also contain protein and 12 vitamins and minerals.
Dark, leafy green vegetables: In addition to being loaded with nutrients, dark, leafy green vegetables — like kale, collard greens, spinach and Swiss chard — contain calcium and magnesium, which help the endocrine system function properly (essential for hormonal balance).
Sunflower seeds: Snack on sunflower seeds to get good fats, B vitamins and zinc, and to help balance reproductive hormones.
Buckwheat: Cook up some buckwheat in place of rice or pasta to help enhance ovulation.
Cinnamon: Add cinnamon to smoothies or oatmeal, as it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and might help boost ovulation rate.
Avocados: Add avocados to salads and sandwiches to get essential fatty acids.