Integrative medical practitioner Dr Ela Manga says the thought of bringing another life into this world is often enough motivation to adopt a healthier lifestyle. So, to give yourself the best chance of falling pregnant, there are some important health basics you need to consider at least six months before you try to conceive.
1. Check your family medical history. If there are any inherited health conditions in the family, it’s important to understand more about them. For instance, some genetic conditions are carried by women but only expressed in men. Cystic fibrosis is another example of a genetic condition and your doctor will give you more information regarding the potential risk to your baby.
2. Have a routine medical check-up. Make sure you’re up to date with your basic health status including blood pressure and pulse rate. A basic breast examination and Pap smear is also a good idea. See a gynaecologist for a pre- pregnancy check to perform a vaginal ultrasound for ovarian cysts, fibroids and other pelvic abnormalities. This is also an opportunity for you discuss any other gynaecological problems such as menstrual problems, pelvic pain, vaginal thrush and other medical problems which concern you. Emotional issues should be discussed and your doctor can refer you to the appropriate source for guidance and support. “It’s also critical that your partner’s health and wellbeing is looked at and optimised,” explains Dr Manga. “Specific blood tests might be needed, including thyroid tests or a more detailed hormonal screen,” she adds.
3. Stock your fridge with healthy foods. Both you and your partner should get into the habit of eating mostly nutritious food.
The following basic blood tests will help determine your nutritional status:
• Haemoglobin. This is the basic screening test for anaemia
• Vitamin D. Research has confirmed the link between vitamin D deficiency and many chronic illnesses. Most doctors now check vitamin D levels owing to a common deficiency among South Africans
• Homocysteine. Studies have also shown the link between high homocysteine levels and pre-eclampsia and other pregnancy related complications. Homocysteine is an amino acid that causes inflammation and free radical damage to cells. Dr Manga warns that smoking, drinking alcohol, accumulated stresses and unhealthy eating increase these levels.
• Cholesterol. A full lipogram (to measure the exact amount of different types of cholesterol) should also be done as this can encourage healthier eating
• A glucose screening test to exclude diabetes or pre-diabetes.
|Living &Loving Tip:
Start supplementing. Start with a good multivitamin that includes folic acid. Folic acid is vital to the formation of the neurological system in the first trimester of pregnancy. “Often women don’t know that they’re pregnant in the first few weeks, so it makes sense to supplement with folic acid while you’re planning to conceive,” says Dr Manga. Also take a good source of omega-3 oils, which are found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel as well as some plant oils.
To boost your chances of becoming pregnant follow Dr Manga’s healthy lifestyle tips:
• Stop smoking and the use of recreational drugs and cut down on your alcohol intake. Numerous studies show these toxins can cause anything from miscarriage to premature birth and foetal deformities
• Try to eat a balanced, nutritious diet, limiting processed and refined food
• Create and follow a regular exercise programme. Aerobic and weight bearing exercises are excellent for your mind, body and soul
• Find ways to relax. Reduce stress with meditation, yoga, regular massage and take care of your emotional well-being. “This is as important as taking care of your physical health when planning to conceive,” Dr Manga emphasises.
Our registered gynaecologist, Dr Mark van der Griendt sheds more light on the blood tests that will help to prevent possible complications in pregnancy:
• German measles (Rubella). While most women would have been vaccinated at school, it’s vital to check that the levels of immunity are still in a protective range. If the illness is contracted in the first trimester, it can cause severe central nervous system abnormalities, as well as deafness and blindness in your unborn baby. To be on the safe side, get immunised or re-immunized before conception
• Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Specific blood tests will determine if you currently have an active or dormant STD. It’s also important to know your HIV status so you can be treated with retrovirals as soon as possible. Some doctors also check for other viral infections, such as chicken pox and the parasitic infection toxoplasmosis
• Medicine checks. Make sure your doctor, gynaecologist or healthcare provider has a comprehensive list of all the medicines and supplements you’re currently taking, says Dr Van der Griendt. Some skincare medicines containing high levels of vitamin A, or acne treatments such as Roaccutan, could cause foetal abnormalities. If you have any concerns, speak to your GP immediately.
Our experienced editors work with trained journalists and qualified experts to compile accurate, insightful and helpful information about pregnancy, birth, early childhood development and parenting. Our content is reviewed regularly by our panel of advisors, which include medical doctors and healthcare professionals. Meet the Living & Loving Team and our Online Experts.