3 Smart Ways To Get Healthier BEFORE You Try To Get Pregnant

Prepare your body (and brain) for pregnancy.

January 26, 2018
health before pregnancy
Claudia Miranda / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you’re looking for advice on how to prepare your body for pregnancy, the one thing you won’t have to worry about is coming up short. Everyone from your gynecologist to your mother to your next-door neighbor will have tips for you. In fact, you’ll receive so much advice, you might find yourself paralyzed with indecision.

To make things more complicated, your life is already pretty busy. You don’t necessarily have time to join a pre-pregnancy boot camp or to start making absolutely everything you eat from scratch. If you have any existing health conditions, achieving a perfect getting-pregnant lifestyle may feel even farther out of reach.

Related: I Tried Acupuncture To Get Pregnant And This Is What It Was Like

The good news is that getting healthier doesn’t mean achieving perfection on any chart or graph. For example, many experts advise women who are planning on becoming pregnant to aim for a “healthy weight,” as defined as a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. Depending on where you’re starting, that might be easier said than done.

It also might be unnecessary.

“Being in good shape doesn't mean having a BMI less than 25,” says Lynne Eldridge MD, a retired obstetrician. “A lot of research now shows that models with a BMI of 18 are much less cardiovascularly fit than those who are even over 30.” In fact, a 2016 study published in The International Journal of Obesity found that nearly half of overweight subjects and 29% of obese subjects were metabolically healthy, according to measurements including blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol. Over 30% of “normal weight” individuals were “cardiometabolically unhealthy.”

Instead of focusing on the scale, Eldridge says that she encouraged her patients to incorporate daily activity into their routines and to focus on eating healthily.

Looking for ways to do that, no matter what your BMI or current level of fitness? These common-sense changes can help.

health before pregnancy
Enrique Díaz / 7cero / Getty Images

In terms of diet, moderation and a focus on nutrition—not necessarily calories—might be the best approach. (With the caveat, of course, that you should always run any diet or exercise program past your own doctor before getting started.)

Related: 6 Foods To Eat (Or Avoid) If You Want To Get Pregnant

Eldridge said she often recommended the Mediterranean Diet (“minus the wine, unfortunately”) to her patients, and advised them to eat a rainbow of foods, as well as adding folic acid supplements before trying to conceive, and having their vitamin D levels checked. (Here are 5 signs you're not getting enough vitamin D.)

But you don’t need to adhere to a specific diet to make better food choices.

“The obvious answer is eat less sugary, salty, and high calorie junk foods and replace them with fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean protein sources,” says Shereen Lehman, MS, Nutrition Expert for Verywell. “But, it’s okay to treat yourself now and then—eating healthy shouldn’t be a chore.”

Lehman offers a few specific tips:

  • Increase intake of foods rich in a B complex vitamin called folate. This foods include oranges, strawberries, legumes, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts. Folate helps prevent spina bifida, a neural tube defect. Lehman recommends upping folate intake as soon as you start planning to get pregnant.

  • Eat calcium-rich foods. “If you’re not big into dairy products, most nut milks are fortified with calcium; and load up on dark green leafy veggies, nuts, and seeds,” she says.

  • Focus on easy meals. “You’re going to be busy with that new baby and you may not feel like cooking extravagant meals (unless cooking is a stress-relieving hobby, then go for it),” she says. “Also, keep healthy snacks in the house—hide the M&Ms and keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter. Fresh berries, nuts, seeds, and raw crunchy veggies are all good snacks.”

In the long terms, she says to remember that your baby will grow up emulating your choices. So, developing good habits now will pay off for both of you.

Try adding these sauteed leafy greens as a side:

health before pregnancy
Nongnuch Leelaphasuk / EyeEm / Getty Images

“Don’t be too extreme in your fitness regimen,” advises Stacey Schaedler, a personal trainer and pre- and post-natal fitness specialist in the Boston area.

Schaedler recommends walking, running, or hiking two to three times a week—“whatever your preference is to keep moving.” In terms of exercises for pregnant women, she recommends squatship thrustsbody rowsside planks, and farmer's carries.

“Keeping your upper back and glutes strong will keep you feeling your best as your belly grows!” she says. “Keeping the postural muscles strong lessens the likelihood you will experience low back, SI Joint pain/discomfort or sciatica.”

Core exercises can be tricky for pregnant women—most fitness specialists and medical experts advise against doing sit-ups, for example, as they can put strain on the abdominal muscles and raise the risk of diastasis recti, a separation between the muscles. Schaedler also recommends avoiding conventional pushups or front planks, once your belly starts growing.

“This will just put more strain on the anterior core,” she says.

Schaedler also cautions pregnant women to remember to roll from their back to their side when exercising later in pregnancy, to minimize the pressure on the abdominal wall.

health before pregnancy
Westend61/Getty Images

You’ve heard the expression, “Put on your oxygen mask first?” Pregnancy and the months before it is a great time to practice self-care. (Here are 20 ideas for small, simple ways to nurture yourself this winter.) 

“As a bottom line, to help women get healthy for pregnancy I'd help them get healthy for themselves,” Eldridge says. “Anything pampering counts. After the baby comes many women need to self-pamper—it simply isn't going to happen otherwise.”

Related: 8 Bizarre Things That Happen To Your Body When You're Pregnant

Eldridge adds that she reminded patients to think of their own needs.

“As an exercise I'd have them think about the love they have for their baby, and then picture themselves as a baby or a young child and think about how to show that little girl inside how loved she is,” she says. “If you're feeling loved it overflows on to your baby naturally. Yet we forget that we can love ourselves. Women need to make time to do this—I took so many years to practice what I preached!”