When is the best time to have a baby? When your body’s ready, says GP Dawn Harper, who has five simple ways to stay in shape in the lead-up to conception.
Around half of pregnancies in Australia each year are unplanned, while others are planned right down to the timing of the birth, perhaps even aimed at getting a head-start on the school year. Given that only 4 per cent of babies arrive on their due date, nature can always find ways of interfering with the best-laid plans! But trying to be as healthy as you can before conception can really benefit both mother-to-be and baby. So, if babies are on your brain, now’s the time to get into the best shape you can. Here are my top five health tips …
Manage your weight
Being either overweight or underweight can affect your fertility, so it’s important to try to get into shape before conception. Aim for a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 25.
However, your weight affects more than just your chances of conceiving. Women who conceive when they are obese (with a BMI of over 30) have an increased risk of complications like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, blood clots and high blood pressure.
They are also more likely to experience difficult labours and produce big babies.
Even if you can’t achieve an ideal BMI, if you’re obese and lose just 5–10 per cent of your body weight, you’ll reap some major health benefits.
Being active significantly lowers the risk of having a large baby and also cuts your risk of gestational diabetes by up to 30 per cent. Physical activity has also been shown to boost mood and energy levels, and reduce the risk of depression.
Always be guided by your GP or physiotherapist, but some great exercises for mums-to-be are:
Gentle walking (at least 30 minutes a day)
Swimming or aquarobics
Yoga or stretching
Muscle-strengthening exercises, including pelvic floor exercises
Even just one cigarette has been shown to have an effect on an unborn baby’s heart rate, so if you’re planning a pregnancy there’s never been a better time — or more incentive — to quit smoking. Your GP will have details of local smoking cessation programs and services, or you can dip your toe in the water by calling Quitline on 13 78 48.
Take folic acid
Women who take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily for at least a month before they conceive, and continue doing so for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, can reduce the risk of spina bifida by 50–70 per cent.
Women at increased risk of spina bifida babies will be advised to take a higher dose. If you think you could be at risk, speak to your GP, as these higher doses should be taken under medical supervision.
Check your vaccinations
Immunisation is an easy and very effective way to protect you and your baby from certain infections. Before you become pregnant, check your vaccinations are up to date so that you have the best protection.
If you’re already pregnant, ensure you’ve had routine immunisations against tetanus and polio, plus also immunise against hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), chickenpox, whooping cough and influenza.
Being active reduces your risk of gestational diabetes by 30 per cent.