Your body may not always be a temple, and we all have our little indulgences, whether it's a fondness for cupcakes or a nightly glass of Cabernet. But when you start to plan for a baby, it's time to start thinking about someone else's health besides yours, because what happens to your body happens to your future baby, too. It's not only drugs, alcohol and smoking that you need to be aware of -- habits like junk food and over-exercising can interfere with your ability to conceive and potentially cause harm to your baby.
"Kicking habits before pregnancy is a wonderful way to begin to prepare for motherhood," explains Miami Beach, Florida-based psychiatrist, Eva Ritvo, M.D. "You're taking responsibility for your body and making sure that your child will have every advantage that you can offer him."
The sooner you get started kicking those bad habits, the better -- for you, your pregnancy and your baby - and the prospect of getting pregnant may be all the motivation you need. Good luck!
Why it Matters: Give up cigarettes before you start trying to conceive. Not only is smoking harmful to you, but it can also make conception harder to achieve. Then, once you get pregnant the nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar exposure can adversely affect your baby's growth and lungs. Smoking can lead to premature delivery and neonatal complications.
How to Kick It: There is often no easy answer to quitting smoking, so ask your healthcare provider about local smoking cessation programs and quitting aids (if you're already trying to get pregnant, check with your doctor to confirm those aids are safe). If you decide to go cold turkey, the March of Dimes recommends that you avoid people who might tempt you to light up, keep your hands occupied, and have a friend to call when you feel like you need a puff.
Why it Matters: Although you're probably aware that heavy drinking can harm the fetus, you may not realize that light drinking can also have a negative impact on pregnancy. Even though some studies have suggested that the occasional beer or glass of wine during pregnancy may be safe, doctors still urge pregnant women to err on the side of caution, abstaining from alcohol altogether. If you're trying to conceive, you should be careful about consuming alcohol because you won't get confirmation that you're pregnant until your baby has already been developing for a few weeks. A Danish study revealed that women who drank between one and five alcoholic beverages when trying to conceive for the first time were 39 percent less likely to conceive within six months than women who consumed no alcohol.
Drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage and premature birth and may even contribute to stillbirth. Alcohol can harm the early developing fetal brain and nervous system, sometimes even leading to fetal alcohol syndrome, the hallmarks of which are microcephaly (abnormally small head), mental retardation and congenital heart defects.
How to Kick It: If you want to enjoy a cocktail while out with friends, you can trade your usual in for a mocktail, suggests nutritionist and founder of Maternal Health Matters, Maria Pari-Keener, M.S., R.D. "While others are drinking, make yourself a spritzer with pomegranate juice, lime, and seltzer and stick a paper umbrella in it! Drink juice, smoothies or, if you must, soda made with cane sugar as an alternative." If you're a heavy drinker and think you need help to stop drinking, contact the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator.
Why it Matters: Prescription drugs are categorized as A, B, C, D, and X in regard to pregnancy by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Be wary of Category C drugs, which have shown adverse affects in animal studies; Category D drugs, which have demonstrated evidence of potential fetal risks; and Category X drugs, which have shown evidence of fetal risk or fetal abnormalities.
If you're taking a prescription drug, let your doctor know right away. Before trying to get pregnant you must stop taking all Class D or X drugs. You may want to play it extra safe by avoiding all medications in the first trimester. Always check with your ob-gyn before starting any new medication.
How to Kick It: If you're on a Category C, D, or X medication, ask your doctor for a safer alternative to take during pregnancy. "If you have the luxury of planning, you should consider preconception counseling," says Wendy Hansen, M.D., Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Kentucky. If you discuss your plans for a baby with your physician, she can ensure that you're not on any medications that are contraindicated in pregnancy. Depending on your condition, you may want to try exploring non-pharmacologic treatment options during pregnancy.
Why it Matters: Although research on caffeine consumption is mixed, some studies have shown that caffeine may contribute to fertility problems and an increased risk of miscarriage. Daniel Roshan, M.D., of Rosh Maternal Fetal Medicine in New York, who specializes in high-risk obstetrics, advises that more than two cups of coffee a day can lead to poor fetal growth and premature labor. But coffee isn't the only culprit -- be aware of other, less obvious, sources of caffeine such as tea, chocolate, soft drinks, and certain medications.
How to Kick It: Experts say you can safely consume 200mg of caffeine a day during pregnancy. Even if you're a caffeine fiend, you can get your fix with one 12-ounce cup of joe a day. Pari-Keener recommends switching to decaf and sipping on herbal tea instead of your usual cappuccino.
Why it Matters: If you thought pregnancy meant days of binging on Cheetos, pizza, and Chinese takeout for the next nine months, we're sorry to disappoint you. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of nutrients is essential for healthy baby growth. A study by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in London found that rats fed a diet of junk food were likely to have overweight babies; another recent study at the University of Adelaide found that a high-fat and high-sugar diet may affect the food preferences of fetuses, and further indicates that babies whose mothers ate a lot of high-fat and high-sugar foods will likely have a fondness for junk foods like Doritos and doughnuts later in life.
How to Kick It: "In general, any person who wants to eat healthfully will limit her intake of sugar, junk food or processed foods, as well as fast food," advises Pari-Keener. "With a little bit of effort, you can change your lifestyle and spend more time cooking and enjoying homemade foods." If you must indulge in packaged snacks, she advises choosing brands that avoid artificial colors and flavors and MSG. Pari-Keener recommends snacks like Robert's American Gourmet Veggie Booty, Barbara's Bakery Cheese Puffs, Bearitos Little Bear Lite Cheddar Puffs, Newman's Own Organics Pretzels, and granola bars from Cascadian Farms or Kashi.
Why it Matters: Before you get too cozy in the ice cream aisle, think about minimizing your sugar intake during pregnancy. Eating lots of sugar in pregnancy contributes to giving your child a sweet tooth, and researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that the babies of mothers with high glucose levels during pregnancy had an increased risk of becoming diabetic in later life.
How to Kick It: Pari-Keener suggests satisfying your yen for sweets with fruit. "It may help you overcome the craving or at least prevent you from eating too many cookies," she explains. "The problem is that when you're pregnant, sugary foods will crowd out room in your belly for decent choices. So, eat some strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream before you dig into the ice cream."
Why it Matters: High stress levels may interfere with getting pregnant, though that applies to major events like the death of a close friend or family member, not the typical stressors of everyday life. Stress can also affect the outcome of infertility treatments. Although research on whether stress reduces your chances for success is inconclusive, studies have shown that stress affects the dropout rate from treatment. Most patients enter treatment feeling stressed, and those who continue to feel stressed tend to give up sooner.
How to Kick It: Find a relaxation technique that works for you and stick to it. Try exercise, yoga, family support, or psychological counseling.
Why it Matters: Time to cut out those late nights and get some zzz's. Research from the University of Washington found that pregnant women who got less than six hours of sleep in early pregnancy had an increased risk of high blood pressure, and women with fewer than five hours a night had higher odds of developing preeclampsia.
How to Kick It: Aim for eight hours of sleep every night. Start by taking a look at your sleep habits. Make sure you go to bed at the same time every night, waking up at the same time every morning (no oversleeping on weekends), eliminate sleep disruptors like alcohol and excess caffeine (which are taboo during pregnancy anyway), and consider taking a warm pre-bedtime bath to help improve sleep. Your bedroom may also be a factor: Try room-darkening shades, adjust the room temperature, turn off all electronic devices (radio, TV, cellphone), keep kids and pets out of your room, or invest in a new mattress.
Why it Matters: Exercising during pregnancy is usually a good thing: It prevents excessive weight gain and keeps you feeling strong and healthy; it can also help stave off gestational diabetes and aid in building up stamina for labor and delivery. But your fitness level at the beginning of your pregnancy sets the stage for how active you can be for the entire nine months, so it's best to start an exercise routine before trying to conceive. Don't overdo it, though. If you're a competitive athlete, or even an avid runner or gym-goer, your activities may affect the ease of conception.
How to Kick It: The easiest way to get moving is to get off the couch and take a walk. Enlist a partner, a friend, or your dog to join you for extra motivation. You may want to hire a personal trainer to help you establish a routine that will work for you now and once you become pregnant. Now is probably not the time to pick up skiing or kickboxing, but swimming, walking, jogging, yoga, and Pilates are all good options (though be prepared to modify your routine once you do get pregnant).
Why it Matters: Illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and Ecstasy may cause birth defects. These drugs pass through the placenta to reach a fetus and may adversely affect a baby's growth and the placenta itself. If you regularly abuse drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, or heroin, your baby may be born with withdrawal symptoms. Taking drugs during pregnancy may also increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
How to Kick It: "Acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step," advises Dr. Ritvo. "Then take a look at exactly what the problem is and how you can change it. What is causing the stress or what are your triggers for using drugs? Make a plan to quit and build up your support team." Journaling, daily exercise, and reading about the issue can all help.
If you need help quitting, talk to your physician and get in touch with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator for more information on getting clean.