A new year is upon us. For many, a fresh calendar means opportunity for a restart – a time for new goals and renewed determination. This natural beginning to an end often nudges us to reflect on how we can further the person that we want to be. But other life events can have a similar effect. One that I see commonly is that of preparing to bring another human being into this world.
For many of the babies that I deliver, they are entering into a family that has been on a journey to become the healthiest parents that they can be. One of the greatest gifts that we can give a newborn is to be engaging in activities that improve our own physical and mental health as a parent.
While taking a prenatal vitamin may be more relevant to the person who is pregnant, I encourage both individuals in the relationship to take this journey – the onus is not just on the person carrying the child. Improving your own health in order to conceive and to be a parent can take on any number of forms, but here are some places to start:
Regular exercise: Get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day. Exercise not only helps with getting pregnant, but also decreases complications during pregnancy.
Nutrition: Eating a healthy diet with adequate vegetables and fruits will help to ensure your body has the stores of energy, vitamins, and minerals needed to support another human. Cutting out sugary beverages such as soda and sweet tea is often the easiest place to reduce calories and sugar that increase the risk of gestational diabetes and excessive weight gain during pregnancy.
Quit Smoking: I often see life-threatening events such as lung cancer or a heart attack serving as wake-up calls to finally make us quit smoking. Having a baby is one of the few positive events in our life that can have similar power. Exposure to cigarette smoke increases prevalence of asthma and allergies in children. Second-hand smoke in the household, over a long enough period, can be similar to if your child themselves are the ones smoking.
Prenatal vitamin: Take a prenatal vitamin long before you start trying to get pregnant. Look for a vitamin that contains at least 400mcg of folic acid which helps to prevent abnormalities in the formation of the brain and spinal cord.
Mental health: Being emotionally and mentally healthy is exceedingly important when we are planning to enter into stressful life events. Even though having a baby is often positive stress, it involves less sleep, less time for self-care, and a dramatic change in your normal routine. If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health diagnoses, during pregnancy (or before) is an ideal time to sit down with your doctor and counselor.
Become flexible: No, you don’t have to take up yoga. The flexibility that I am referring to involves self-care. Many of us have developed self-care activities that work for our current schedule. For some people it might be a really long hike or gym session on the weekends, a group that we always play tennis with on Tuesdays, or a healthy meal that we spend time cooking on Sundays. When you have a newborn, these routines will all change. Start the process early of brainstorming how you can continue to stay healthy in mind and body with smaller windows of time. Consider buying a jump rope, home gym equipment, or creating a schedule with your partner that affords each of you a set time for self-care in the week.
Intentional connection: When we live with our significant other but do not yet have children, it often feels that we have all of the time we need to connect. The more our attention gets divided, the more intentional we have to be about connection. If you don’t already, consider developing short routines of connecting with your partner that you can continue after you have a baby. This could be as simple as trading foot rubs for 5 minutes each morning, sitting down and sharing three gratitude’s with your partner before bed, or carving out a regular date night.
See your doctor: I love seeing people who come into clinic and say “we are thinking of getting pregnant but I would like to be as healthy as possible.” We can review your family history, your medications, and partner with you and your loved one to improve your health.
Parents who work on their own health, raise kids who maintain theirs.