There’s no shortage of advice on the internet, and the life hacks we see shared on social media can be downright intriguing. Sleeping just two hours a night to accelerate productivity? Working out for a minute a day, with incredible results? Sounds a little too good to be true, if you know what we mean. We’re all for seeking out new experiences in pursuit of our best selves, but the truth is not every lifestyle change needs to be flashy to have a lasting impact on your health. Just look at hopeful parents-to-be. Experts tell them to stick to the basics–good nutrition, regular exercise, stress management, sleep–all the stuff we should be doing anyway. When it comes to becoming parents, good habits really will take you where you want to go. Here, we’re outlining all the ways you can build healthy habits to boost your chances of conception. Think of it as life-hacking, but for grown-ups.
- Cue-action relationships can help you build a healthy new habit, like remembering to take your prenatal vitamin every day.
- When it comes to prenatal vitamins, consistency is key.
- The best habits are small enough to run almost on their own–exactly like taking a daily prenatal vitamin.
- Remember that building new habits can take time, so leaning on technology (Apple reminders, anyone?) can be a great failsafe.
Knowing what we should be doing is one thing. Actually doing it is another. Life fills up. Demands on our time, from every direction, come between us and our best intentions. Before we realize it, there seems to be no time left to take a quick run, or to steam broccoli, or even to sleep. Self-care gets replaced by chronic stress, and our health and fertility decline. It’s a big problem in general, and especially for couples trying for a baby. Here’s the workaround when life gets in the way.
Stack your Habits
For researchers, a habit is any action that is automatically triggered by a cue in our environment. For example, we wash our hands (action!) after going to the bathroom (cue!), without consciously thinking about it. This -ue-action relationship is key to adding a successful new habit to your routine.
When you’re ready to create a new habit, you need to find a reliable cue to link it with. Here’s an example: your plans for your future family are coming into focus. You’re looking to optimize your fertility, and you’ve sourced high-quality prenatal vitamins for you and your partner (because yes, men benefit from swapping the ol’ multivitamin for a specialized men’s prenatal vitamin). But to make a habit of taking your vitamins every day, you’ll need to find a cue in your existing routine:
- Maybe that means you store the vitamin bottle next to the protein powder (note: not sports supplements) you mix each morning, or in the vanity drawer next to your toothbrush.
- Maybe you use a pill sorter, and you keep it stacked front and center next to the glass of water on your bedside table.
- Maybe you go the digital route, setting a daily reminder on your smartphone or watch that aligns with a convenient time of day to get that prenatal vitamin down (breakfast is always good).
The point is, by stacking your new habit with an existing habit you like, you increase the odds of making it stick. Brush your teeth (cue), take your vitamins (action). Habitual self-care, handled!
We’ll go ahead and take this opportunity to point out that in the world of prenatal vitamins, for women and men alike, consistency is absolutely king. There are no benefits for half-measures here. Supporting and promoting fertility health takes time, and experts tell couples to start prenatal vitamins months and months before they plan to become pregnant. Sperm production takes roughly 72 days, and a man’s health during this timeframe directly affects the quality of those developing sperm to cascading effect. The most common cause of sperm deficiencies is a nutrient shortage, which is why proper prenatal nutrition, complete with the supplementation of a high-quality men’s prenatal vitamin, is linked to higher-quality sperm and fewer DNA abnormalities (which can mean a reduced risk of miscarriage).
For women, prenatal vitamins support fertility in much the same way. Specific nutrients can reduce the risk of miscarriage, support egg quality, and reduce the risks of serious birth defects between the time you conceive and actually see those two pink lines. Brain and spine defects happen in the earliest weeks, often before most women even realize they’re pregnant. Ensuring that you’re getting sufficient amounts of key nutrients, like folate and choline, is really important.
Bottom line–when it comes to preconception health, consistency goes a long way. It’s settled science that the preconception health and nutrition of both parents has a huge effect on pregnancy outcomes, and a specialized prenatal vitamin for you both is an easy way to cover your nutritional bases. But the key is starting them early and sticking with it to ensure a steady, reliable stream of the nutrients you both need.
Our brains are wired to love the cognitive efficiency of habits. Linking repeated behaviors to the cues that turn up over and over in our environments frees up our brains to think about other stuff. But there’s a limit to the load of behaviors that our brains can put on autopilot. Habits need to be small enough to run almost on their own.
You have big goals: you want to be in optimal health as you prepare to become a parent. Men, you want to boost your sperm count, increase your sperm motility, and give yourself and your partner the best possible chance of a healthy pregnancy and child. Ladies, you want to lay the groundwork for a healthy conception, pregnancy, and postpartum experience. By giving your goals expression in microsteps, even on the busiest days, you’ll set yourself up for success.
It’s OK to Stumble
Just don’t stop! Health habits are a long-term game. It can take some trial and error to figure out the right cue for your new habit. When you notice your new habit making a positive impact on your goals, it’s important to celebrate. In fact, taking note of small wins has been linked to increased creativity and productivity. Plus, all that positive cheerleading brings you and your partner together.
The Bottom Line
You’ve already come a long way in understanding that the things you value most— your health, your relationships—need care in order to flourish. You eat well because you know it benefits your body. You prioritize fitness because the more you move, the better you feel. And you sleep because we all function better after a solid night. Now, follow that intention with action, and those good habits will take you where to go (parenthood, baby!).