When you decide the time is right for a baby, there’s a general rule of thumb. If you’re under 35 and generally healthy, you should give yourself roughly a year to conceive before turning to a fertility specialist. If you’re over 35 and generally healthy, the timeline to successfully conceive narrows to six months before consulting with an expert. Either way, that gives you quite a bit of time to prepare for all the excitement ahead. And by prepare, we mean doing everything in your power to nourish your fertility health. If you’re totally on board but wondering what that actually means, we’re breaking down the do’s and don’ts for planning a pregnancy.
- The preconception window describes the three to six months before conception, a time to nourish your fertility health.
- Healthy habits and lifestyle adjustments intended to improve your health as a whole can also help support fertility health.
The Oh-So-Important Preconception Window
If you aren’t familiar, the preconception window is the three to six months before you become pregnant, and it’s prime time to take actionable steps that really support your health. Why does this matter? Research is clear that the health of both parents before a pregnancy not only affects a successful conception, but the health of the pregnancy, your baby, and even the next generation (1). Notice we said both parents. We’re focusing on women in this post, but let’s be clear that embracing healthy habits to improve your fertility health isn’t limited to women. Sperm is one half of the baby-making equation, and we cannot stress enough that healthy sperm has an enormous effect on everything to come. For men, fertility health is largely about sperm health, and we cover sperm health parameters in depth all over this blog (check out our posts on at-home sperm testing and whether it’s considered an important part of men’s preconception health, how the right men’s prenatal can help improve low sperm count, and the importance of sperm morphology for more info).
But today, the discussion relates to preconception tips for women. So let’s define female fertility, which we describe as a person’s ability to become pregnant. For a woman, egg quality and hormonal balance, plus a basic understanding of her own cycle and when she’s ovulating, are going to be deciding factors. And no, guzzling cough syrup to “boost your fertility” isn’t the answer, and you haven’t doomed your chances of parenthood because you’ve been on hormonal birth control for the last ten years. The best way to support fertility health, male or female, is actually kind of boring. You know all of the things you should be doing to be a healthy, happy and functioning person? Yeah, that’s good for your fertility health, too. But understanding exactly how exercise, nutrition, stress management, restful sleep and moderation in certain indulgences can help can be pretty darn motivating, so let’s get into these do’s and don'ts.
Do: Make a Plan
When the goal was not getting pregnant, chances are good you had a plan for just that. Now that you’re ready for parenthood, make a plan to make it happen (ahem, we have a three-month plan for trying to conceive in 2024 right over here)! We love this intentional, proactive approach, and we really like this printable plan from the CDD with checklists and tips to walk you through it.
Do: See Your Doctor
Yes, yes, we clarified up top that you should wait six months to a year to see your doctor, but that’s if you’re actively trying to conceive and getting nowhere. Before getting pregnant, it’s a great idea to see your doctor and discuss preconception health. Be upfront about your health history and any medical conditions that could affect a pregnancy. If your cycle is reliably unreliable or you have PCOS symptoms, get ahead of the situation and talk through the best course of action with your doctor. This is also an opportunity to discuss medications you may be taking and even possibly get your nutrients levels tested to ensure you’re getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D (real talk, most people aren’t).
Do: Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins
The best time to start taking a high-quality prenatal vitamin is before you’re pregnant. When you take a clean prenatal like Beli for Women every day, you help shore up inevitable nutritional gaps (because no diet is perfect). In the event you conceive quickly, your baby will be getting critical nutrients like choline and folic acid before you even realize you’re pregnant, which can help prevent major birth defects.
Don’t: Grab the First Prenatal Vitamin Box You See on the Shelf
There are a ton of prenatal vitamins on the market, and the quality and efficacy and purity range from one brand to the next is truly shocking. It’s a crying shame, but you can’t assume that any old prenatal vitamin will do. While we can’t speak to other brands on the market, we can tell you that Beli for Women is one of just a handful of prenatal vitamins on the market meeting current recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist and the American Medical Association for choline, folate, iodine, magnesium, and vitamin D (2). And bonus points: a serving size is a very doable three capsules (amen!).
Do: Prioritize Nutrition, Movement and Rest
Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce pregnancy complications, so if you’re under or over where you need to be, commit to eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep (3). Easier said than done, right? You can ask your doctor for specific recommendations, but there really is no magic bullet. Reach for whole foods over processed versions, because what you eat really matters (4). Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, make time to move 30 minutes every day, and do your best to get at least seven hours of shut-eye every night.
Don’t: Panic about Being Perfect
You’re working toward healthy habits, but beating yourself up because you enjoyed dessert or skipped a workout or stayed up to watch a movie is doing you no favors. First of all, stress itself can torpedo your fertility, so cut yourself a little slack. Do what you can, make healthy choices more often than not, and be proud of yourself for the effort!
Do: Cut Way Back on Alcohol
We cover the topic pretty comprehensively in our alcohol and your fertility post, but suffice to say that moderation is key when you’re trying to conceive. You’ll want to stop completely when you’re pregnant, just to play it safe, so get into the swing of things early and take it easy on the booze.
Don’t: Smoke or Use Recreational Drugs
Still smoking or vaping? It’s way past time to stop, just from a health standpoint, and really important when the plan is a baby (5). These fall into the “toxic substances” category, which pose all sorts of issues for a healthy baby, so if you need resources to quit, jump online or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Cannabis is legal in certain states, but again, this is something to avoid at this point in time. The same is true for CBD. There just isn’t enough research to confirm its safety during this time, so the wisest course of action is to abstain completely.
The Bottom Line
A baby is a big deal and taking parenthood seriously should ideally begin well before you see those two pink lines (that change everything). You don’t have to be a maniac about it, but being mindful about what you do now in preparation for pregnancy really can make a difference.Article Sources
- Preconception Health. The Lancet. (2018). https://www.thelancet.com/series/preconception-health
- Nutrition During Pregnancy. 2023. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
- Planning for Pregnancy. (2023). https://www.cdc.gov/preconception/planning.html
- Panth, N et al. (2018). The influence of diet on fertility and the implications for public health nutrition in the United States. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6079277/
- Pregnant? Don’t Smoke! (2020). https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/features/pregnantdontsmoke.html