5 smart health habits that can help you conceive
Get prepped for a healthy pregnancy with our take-action guide.
Pregnancy has a way of sparking loads of healthy changes all at once. But if you start implementing some of them before you conceive, it will be easier to set seamless habits for the next 40 weeks.
If you’re planning to try for a baby, talk with your doctor if you haven’t already done so, says Stephanie Seitz, ND. She’s a naturopathic doctor at Natural Kid Doc in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is also an adjunct professor at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences who works with patients who are pregnant or trying to conceive.
Your doctor can help you assess any potential health roadblocks you might face. And if you are already pregnant or think you might be, setting good habits and stocking up on essential gear prior to your first doctor visit can help you feel prepared. Here are the steps to take now.
Stock up on prenatal vitamins
You don’t need to have a positive pregnancy test to begin taking prenatal vitamins. In fact, it’s a good idea to start taking them before conception to ensure that you have an adequate supply of folic acid in your body.
Folate is a B vitamin responsible for making new cells in various parts of the body, such as your skin, nails and hair. When you’re pregnant, folate and folic acid help prevent neural tube defects. These are severe defects of the brain, spine and spinal cord, and they affect about 3,000 pregnancies each year in the U.S., according to the March of Dimes. The most common ones are spina bifida (a spine and spinal cord defect) and anencephaly (a brain defect).
Because neural tube defects occur in the first 3 or 4 weeks of pregnancy, before women even realize they are pregnant, it is vital that you start taking folate before you try to get pregnant. That will help ensure that you have enough folic acid in your body before you conceive.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women of reproductive age take 400 milligrams of folic acid (the synthetic form of folate found in vitamins and some fortified foods) every day and consume folate from a varied diet. Many non-prenatal multivitamins also have folic acid, but taking prenatals will give you the dose you need.
The same goes for male partners. A research review in Fertility and Sterility suggested that a healthy diet coupled with antioxidant supplements may help increase sperm quality in men.
Talking with your doctor about your plans to conceive can include a conversation about the supplements they recommend. Some might recommend adding fish oil high in DHA as another way of maximizing fetal neurological development, says Seitz.
The Optum Store has a wide range of prenatal vitamins. Shop now and have it all shipped right to your door.
Know your cycle
Even if you’re only thinking about getting pregnant at the moment, consider giving ovulation trackers a try. These devices can give you a better handle on your cycle.
One study published in BMJ Global Health suggested that home-based ovulation predictor kits may improve fertility management. That’s because you can monitor your cycle and get a baseline idea of your most fertile days.
“Getting familiar with your cycle can be helpful,” says Seitz. For one thing, it will give you and your partner a better idea of how to time intercourse. It can also be useful information to share with your doctor.
Over-the-counter digital trackers, such as ClearBlue Advanced Digital Ovulation Test, are easy to read and track 2 key fertility hormones. The benefit: You can identify a window that includes peak fertility days, as well as other high-fertility days.
Eat right and get moving
A well-balanced diet and exercise routine is important for you and your partner when you’re trying to conceive. Seitz recommends that her patients incorporate more nutrient-rich foods into their day.
Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes and low-fat dairy products such as yogurt are always great choices. Dark leafy greens and proteins such as fish, poultry and nuts may be particularly beneficial for sperm health, she says.
Staying active is vital in the early days of pregnancy and throughout the whole 9 months (as long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, of course). Prenatal exercise has many health benefits, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It can:
- Reduce back pain
- Ease constipation
- Possibly decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or a cesarean delivery
- Strengthen your heart and blood vessels
- Help you lose the baby weight after your child is born
So get outside and get moving. One fun way to stay motivated: Track your activity with a wearable health tracker. You can keep count of how many steps you take each day (or how many miles, or flights of stairs). These devices can also help you monitor data such as blood pressure and heart rate, which can fluctuate during pregnancy. (Read more about the cool things health trackers can do.)
The best tracker is the one that works for you. Some people like to see every single data point, while others prefer to minimize the influx of data and stick to tracking movement or sleep. (Check out the health trackers available at the Optum Store.)
Pregnancy can seem like one long to-do list, but it’s critical to find ways to relax, says Seitz. And yes, that includes just-for-fun sex that isn’t focused entirely on conception.
Another way to add moments of relaxation to your day: Develop a mindfulness practice. It can be as simple as taking 20 slow breaths in and out, following a mini meditation on a wellness app or doing some gentle yoga moves.
This isn’t just a smart habit during pregnancy. It can also help you manage fears and anxiety related to childbirth and parenting. Mindfulness breaks may also be beneficial when you become a parent. Some studies have found that engaging in a mindfulness practice during pregnancy could potentially reduce postpartum stress and depression.
Take care of your teeth
Pregnancy may increase your chance of gum disease, a risk factor associated with early labor and low birth weight. Plus, your oral health is a strong predictor of your child’s oral health, according to the CDC.
Get a dental checkup, and make sure to brush up on your oral health habits now. Caring for your teeth can minimize issues during pregnancy. Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. And if you haven’t already, consider switching to an electronic toothbrush and remember to floss (for real this time).
Neural tube defects statistic: March of Dimes (2020). “Folic acid”
Folic acid recommendations: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). “Folic acid”
Sperm and diet: Fertility and Sterility (2018). “Diet and men’s fertility: does diet affect sperm quality?”
Ovulation kit study: BMJ Global Health (2019). “Should home-based ovulation predictor kits be offered as an additional approach for fertility management for women and couples desiring pregnancy?”
Exercise benefits: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2019). “Exercise during pregnancy”
Mindfulness: BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2019). “Assessing the effectiveness of mindfulness-based programs on mental health during pregnancy and early motherhood — a randomized control trial”
Pregnancy and oral health: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). “Pregnancy and oral health”